The freshest regional poetry ambassador, Susan Peiffer, is no stranger to the spotlight. On stage, she is an artist weaving a spell over her audience with words, every syllable rising or falling in a purposeful cadence to punctuate a moment of humor or a raw emotion or a poignant revelation. Peiffer brings poetry to life with a style that’s meant to be experienced out loud—and shared with others.
As the Pikes Peak Poet Laureate through 2018, Peiffer will build on her career in performance poetry. But she also serves as executive director and “Slam Ma’am” of Hear Here, a yearlong symposium of spoken word competitions—poetry slams—and workshops that can only be described as a local movement. She spearheads youth and adult programs in writing, editing and performance, and coaches both age groups on to national competitions. For the uninitiated—or those who think poetry died with Lord Byron—these spoken word competitions are part literature, part hip hop, part performance art. These events are the heart of the thriving poetry movement.
It all comes together perfectly for Peiffer. “[Growing up,] my parents were exceptional,” Peiffer says. “I’ve always been championed to write and to speak out loud.”
Modeling supportiveness is critical to her work at Hear Here, where, along with creative partner Luke Cissell, she revels in “poets of all ages, of any skill, with awesome stories and a sense of community.” Peiffer notes the importance of creating a safe space to listen and to understand peers, particularly for the area’s teens.
“You can’t take young people out of their context and be effective,” Peiffer says. “And a lot of the young people I work with don’t have a good context—or any context at all.”
This year, Peiffer worked with eight young people from eight schools as they competed their way through classrooms, districts and an area semifinals slam. Five finalists were selected to join the city-sponsored Hear Here National Youth Slam Team. The students traveled to Washington, D.C., in July to compete with over 600 other slam champions from around the country. “And to think, three of them had never really written a poem before,” Peiffer says.
Preparing for nationals, the five signed a covenant to commit to practice, write and meet together for a weekly meal.
“Students take the city bus, bum rides and ride their bikes for a half hour to show up,” she says. “Although they have made a commitment to the team, their families cannot always make the commitment to them.”
The experience can be transformational. “I watch all of the students become more aware, observant and empathetic,” she says. “They become family.”
Meanwhile, Hear Here’s adult team works year-round, performing each third Thursday for events during the open slam season to earn cumulative points toward representing Colorado Springs on the national level.
For Peiffer, the excitement surrounding poetry in the local arts community is invigorating. And she sees the process as a therapeutic tool for area youth. “[I hope] more invested faculty members and educators who want to utilize an urgent, relevant and receptive medium with their young people will call on us for counseling work, disciplinary work and recovery work. The point is not the poetry,” she says. “The point is really the people.”
Hear Here Here
Get the schedule of slams, open mics and community nights at wheretohear.org.