Writer shares years of poetry in new book
By Shanderia K. Posey
In her early 20s, Janice K. Neal-Vincent, Ph.D., was dissatisfied with available material to use for spoken word choirs.
At the time, she was founding and directing the unique choirs mainly in churches.
When she couldn’t find material in bookstores to reflect and inspire those in the African-American community, she began writing the poetry herself.
Though similar to spoken word artists who perform individually, spoken word choirs can include two or more people reciting and expressing prose.
Neal-Vincent, now a freelancer writer for The Mississippi Link, is a former Jackson State University speech communications professor.
“There was a time in that particular discipline (speech communications) when speech choir was relevant but over time in search of a paradigm, the discipline went to interpersonal communication and so forth,” she said.
But with the debut of her first book titled “A Little of Me: A Little of You,” Neal-Vincent is reminding others of the enjoyment spoken word choir offers.
The book, funded by the Greater Jackson Arts Council, includes about 80 poems divided into five categories – determination, anti-bullying, hope, culture and God Calls. Additionally, the book pays tribute to people such as Oseola McCarty, Medgar Wiley Evers, President Barack Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama, Aretha Franklin and others.
All of the book’s poems resulted from a project, also funded by the Arts Council, Neal-Vincent conducted in Jackson Public Schools for 12 years.
During the project which has the same title as the book, Neal-Vincent wrote poems for students to perform in spoken word choirs. The first JPS spoken word choir was founded in 1997 at Morrison Elementary School. The project eventually extended to churches, universities, libraries, museums and more.
Not intending to write a book, Neal-Vincent simply shared the collection of poems with Jon Salem, assistant director of the Arts Council. He suggested they do something with the collection and early this year an advance release of the book was published. The book will be available for purchase in October.
“This collection of spoken word poetry by Janice K. Neal-Vincent is to be treasured – spiritually uplifting, emotionally arresting and ultimately healing,” Salem said in a review on the book jacket. “The children and adult choirs will rejoice in these wise, rhythmic pieces. An impressive body of work.”
When the Arts Council celebrated its 35th anniversary in May with a ceremony, students from Power APAC performed poems from the book.
Jessie Thompson, a fellow grantee of the Arts Council, saw and heard the performance and asked Neal-Vincent about having a choir perform at this weekend’s City With Soul Awards set for 7 p.m. July 30, at Metrocenter Mall. Since school was out and there was no way to contact young students, Neal-Vincent assembled an adult choir to perform three poems in a six-minute presentation for the event: “Jesus Boy,” “Break Away: Loose These Chains Of Bondage” and “Kick Up The Dust.”
“I had never seen this before, and it was really unique,” Thompson said. “I thought it would be great for our audience to see it. While individual artists have performed spoken word, this will be the first time a spoken word choir will be performing.”
In the book, Neal-Vincent offers a primer to explain exactly what a spoken word choir is, how one should be conducted and directed, and the benefits of the choir. For example, she recommends a choir consist of at least nine people with “light, medium and dark” blended voices. A choir can include people of all ages; however, they should have “an appreciation of poetry and light prose.”
Benefits include analytical thinking, improved listening skills, diction, vocal variety, bodily behavior, eye contact, unity, understanding and sharing of messages, improved vocabulary, wide literary exposure, exposure to numerous authors and cultural diversity.
Distinctions between singing choirs and spoken word choirs are many. For example, the melody of instruments in singing choirs causes listeners to gravitate toward the song.
“We get into how to say the poem, how to say it not just with oral expression but to say it with bodily behavior and bring out the poem’s intended meaning, so there’s a lot of creativity that goes on with it, and I’ve found out that people of all ages just love spoken word choir,” Neal-Vincent said. “In spoken word choirs, those participants have to adjust what they are doing similar to the singing choir. They have to remember what their voices are like – medium/dark. They have to understand terminology in order to get that poem right. If they don’t understand what context means and the author has used it in a line in a poem, the whole thing can be thrown off.”
Schools and community organizations are welcomed to use material in the book for educational purposes and are reminded to credit the author for the poems.
The book could be a catalyst to encourage creation for additional spoken word choirs. Others seem to agree.
“A Little of Me: A Little of You . . . is a book that the writer would recommend to students, teachers or anyone else who is interested in the black experience. It is wide ranging in its composition. The key descriptive words that come to mind are advice, history and celebration. Using the format of the spoken word choir, the book is truly a compendium of southern black culture familiar to those who are in the know and revealing to those who want to know,” said Ivory Phillips, Ph.D., dean emeritus of JSU.
Anyone interested in Neal-Vincent conducting workshops or performances can reach her at (601) 941-2993.
Shanderia K. Posey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.