Guerilla Poets and the Power of Presentation

The Guerilla Poets provide a valuable example of how art, particularly political art, can be presented in memorable and relevant ways, demanding attention and making its message heard.

The act of searching for performances by this group reveals such undertakings as this page, ticket sales for a #AGRICULTURED event, proceeds going to supporting a “Sustainable Housing Agriculture Reaching Everyone” project in Kenya. In terms of presentation this event is clearly very different from the typical Guerilla Poets approach, not even being a poetry performance and utterly lacking in the guerilla aesthetic. Instead, it’s an art show with ticket sales. But the activist lens of it and the position of the guerilla poets as organizers presents their own political stance and perspectives on the place of art in activism, encouraging such expression for causes, in this case environmental and humanitarian.

But what’s so special about the guerilla poets is in the ways they might go about expressing such activist art. The presentation is not just $10 ticket art galleries to go visit. They also provide a far more unusual and impactful approach. The Guerilla poets offer, as their creator Janaka Stucky describes in this interview, “street poetry.” As the Boston Phoenix colorfully puts it, they were “DIY versifiers who crisscrossed the country dive-bombing public places with in-your-face readings.” Not only, then, is the Guerilla Poetry approach about activist art, but it’s about making it heard and making it loud and unaviodable. That’s a uniquely energetic and perhaps even ferocious approach to making art visible and its messages heard, by taking it where it can’t be missed and filling it with passion and life.

That ultimately is the lesson I think we should learn from the Guerilla Poets. Stucky describes their mission as “taking poems written for the page and finding ways to present them with intensity, even if that intensity is quiet,” through public spoken performance, and I think exploring presentation tactics they developed could be extremely useful to find a way to present our own upcoming work of art. Something using the power of spoken word in public and with intensity, loud or soft but bringing that powerful energy and vibrancy. Perhaps a group speaking platform like at Storke could be an effective method. I know I have gotten many comments since the Mapping Dissent performance where people have told me they noticed me and the other people up on the steps of Storke reading those testimonies, even if few entirely caught the meaning of the words. The act of public speaking performance can itself be an extremely effective method of attention grabbing and expression, and I think it’s something we could capitalize on. I think that’s particularly effective an option when merged other expressive acts, like the silence in mapping dissent, which had its own unique intensity and power, and the signs, which I still see people stopping to read all along the main stretch of campus. The Guerilla Poets model just provides one more example of how to express meaning in art in powerful ways.

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