For the latest dance collaboration video by Rebecca McLane and Taryn Pickard, Nanoose Bay author and poet Susan Pederson asked herself “what do we all need right now and what are we holding on to?”
Her spoken-word poem For Hope tries to answer her that.
“We don’t have a definite answer and we don’t know when this is going to end. We’re all feeling a little lost and thinking it has to be over by now,” she said.
Pederson found herself completely immersed in the idea of hoping for a better tomorrow, when the world can put the COVID-19 pandemic in the past.
She hopes the message in her poem resonates with anyone struggling right now, but especially with adolescents and young artists. In the dance video, she would like people to experience the impact of her words, and see the young dancers press on and be creative.
“They’re continuing with their art, no matter what. Everybody can do something, whether you sew, or whether you do sketches, or play guitar. We all have something we can do that will keep us going.”
Pederson makes the distinction between written poetry and spoken word poetry, where spoken word takes its quality not as much from visual aesthetics but on phonaesthetics, also known as the aesthetics of sound. Her draw to spoken word poetry stems from her fear of public speaking. The first few times she performed in public, she’d been incredibly nervous, but found that she could “move people with her words.”
She recalls the first time she saw the impact her words had was when her aunt was dying and she wrote a piece for her aunt’s sons. At the funeral one of the sons stood up and read her entire work out loud. Pederson attributes this defining moment as what cemented poetry as her creative outlet.
She said that “no suffering is ever wasted on a writer” and draws inspiration from life as it moves around her.
Another moment of inspiration Pederson speaks of had been at a restaurant when she saw a family leaving, and witnessed the mother move to place her hand on her adolescent daughter’s back as they left.
“And then I could see that she stopped and kind of double thought on that and stopped herself. And I thought, ‘I bet you in that moment she realized ‘oh my little girl’s not so little anymore. And she might be uncomfortable if I did this.’ So inspiration can just be a tiny moment in time when I’ve wondered what somebody was thinking.”
The writing process in For Hope had been unique in that it involved collaboration with the teenage dancers as well.
McLane had asked the young women what brings them hope right now, to which she did not get a lot of responses. But when they were asked, as a means to relate to their own creative outlet, what specific body parts do you associate with hope?
“And then they had all these amazing, insightful answers. I was so impressed,” said Pederson.
From there, Pederson took their words and ‘fit them together,’ letting them naturally fall into place with one another.
She believes with a project like this, it’s important to include the dancers’ voice and perspectives.
“I think the pandemic has been especially tough on adolescents. As adults, we’ve been through some heavy duty stuff and we know we’re going to get through it. We don’t know how, but we’re going to get past this. With adolescents, they’re old enough. So they don’t just believe anything you say. But they’re young enough that they might not know that we are going to get through this. And I think they’re so vulnerable. And you can’t reason them out of it because they’re adolescents,” she said with a chuckle.
If working on a spoken word piece, Pederson will often rehearse the poem out loud many times to find the right emphasis and impact. She views the practice as more of a performance, than simply reciting words.
“I feel like I have a real responsibility to entertain my audience. If they’ve taken the time to listen to my words, that’s an extreme privilege for me. And most people don’t get that opportunity, so I feel like I owe them something. Whether it’s to make them feel an emotion or whether its just to make them laugh.”
She said that audiences should prepare themselves for a raw and emotional experience with her writing.