Art Murmur: Phonetic Spit
“Public speaking is the number-one fear in the world, according to most polls. Our slogan goes, ‘if you can break it down on the mic, you can break down in the board room, or at the job interview.’” – Myrlin Hepworth
Not the goopy mucus you accidentally step on when you’re on your way to the light rail.
“Spit” in this case means to enlighten and empower through the use of spoken word and poetry.
Phonetic Spit, a Valley organization, was founded by Tomas Stanton and Myrlin Hepworth. It started off as a small poetry group at South Mountain High School and blossomed into a successful venture that has partnered with the Mesa Arts Center, Arizona Commission of the Arts and several programs here at ASU. Their goal is to educate people to express themselves through spoken word and poetry.
I was fortunate enough to hear Hepworth’s soul-touching work at an open mic night last year at Gammage Auditorium.
Art Murmur spoke to Stanton and Hepworth about Phonetic Spit’s past, present and successes:
Art Murmur: Many groups that intend to empower youth tend to go through different routes (e.g., musical workshops, sports). Why the approach of poetry/spoken word?
Myrlin Hepworth: Phonetic Spit engages youth in performance, poetry, and writing workshops as means to combat illiteracy.
First, our goal is to teach emotional literacy through reflective writing. By engaging students to examine the depth of their present and past experiences we allow students a safe space to express themselves.
We operate workshops from three main guidelines: 1. Be Brave 2. Be Respectful 3. Your Voice matters.
Poetic exploration requires courage especially when examining a painful past. When students adopt the first rule of “being brave” they grow by stepping out of their comfort zone.
Secondly, we teach oral literacy. Performing poetry requires speech development and each student develops an ability to speak in public. Public speaking is the number-one fear in the world according to most polls. Our slogan goes, “if you can break it down on the mic, you can break down in the board room, or at the job interview.”
Thirdly, we teach cultural literacy by promoting healthy discourse about culture. The realm of poetry performance itself spans many sub cultures including, hip hop, the blues and comic books. Student poets represent their sub cultures as well as their personal ethnic cultures and the open mic/workshop provides a safe place for students to create discourse about identity.
Finally, we teach literacy by developing writing programs that promote, clear, concrete, creative and critical writing skills.
AM: How have participants been positively impacted by participating in Phonetic Spit?
Tomas Stanton: Many of our students have begun to move on to successful collegiate careers two of which in recent years have received full-ride scholarships at the University of Wisconsin due to their participation in our programming. Others have moved on to community colleges and other institutions of higher learning. Many have transformed from the realms of invisibility and quietness into a world of social acuteness and sociability, others have emerged from depression and troubled misdirection to find themselves founding promising futures for themselves.
The number of these young people increases as our programs reach more and more young people. Go talk to them.
AM: What organizations do you work with and present at?
MH: Right now Phonetic Spit is teaching residencies at Peoria Transitional Center (through the Arizona Commission on the Arts), Camelback High School (through Recreative Arts), Westwood High School (Mesa), C.O. Greenfield Elementary (Phoenix) and North High School (Phoenix) funded by Mesa Arts Center “Words Becomes Flesh” programming and the Young Writers Program’s “Poetry Out Loud” program.