A Conversation with Performance Poet Gaia Schilke

A Conversation with Performance Poet Gaia Schilke


Talk and Book presentation
A Coney Island State of Mind
By Gaia Schilke
Fri, Mar 6, 5pm
Camino Silvestre Salón
Correo 43, Centro

By Alison Rogers

Spoken Word poet Gaia Schilke, an expat resident of San Miguel de Allende, will be featured at Camino Silvestre Salón on Friday, March 6. The following excerpts are from an interview with Gaia about her new collection A Coney Island State of Mind now available on Amazon and for sale at her reading.

This is an unusual format for a book, including both your poetry and illustrations. How did that come about? The first half of the book is made up of text poems with illustrations, and the second half of the book is my illustrated poetry. The title of my book, A Coney Island State of Mind, came from the title of Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s poetry book A Coney Island of the Mind. I consider Ferlinghetti one of my first poet teachers, along with E.E. Cummings and Leonard Cohen. I discovered that Ferlinghetti borrowed the title of his own book from a line in Henry Miller’s novel Black Spring. My poem “Henry Coney Island Miller” in this collection is an imaginary conversation with one of my literary heroes.

What came first for you, the poetry or the visual art? I’ve been a writer and a visual artist all my life, separately for years. Then, in the ’80s and ’90s in New York City, I put my first book of illustrated poetry together in 1997, titled From The Margin, and some of those poems are included in the second half of my new collection. I started writing poetry when I was young, around nine-years-old. But it was when I became involved in the spoken word community in New York that I started performing my poetry and publishing my work internationally.

How did you become a spoken word poet? At first, I was terrified to share my most personal work on stage with an audience of intent listeners. When I sat down after, I just felt naked. But that’s when I knew I’d done my best work, no matter how scared I felt—and that is magic. To this day readings still scare me, but I do it anyway.

How is spoken word poetry different from a poetry reading? People often rightfully feel bored by poetry, and I get it. But one thing I bring to my readings is performance. Spoken word is different from what other poets do because it has a theatrical element that gives the words resonance. I’ve always felt I have to earn my time on stage, that it’s not okay to take even 20 minutes of people’s time and bore them. Some friends who’ve felt resistant to poetry are surprised when they finally come to hear me read—they felt entertained and enjoyed poetry!

Gaia Schilke, originally from New England and New York City, has lived in San Miguel for four years. For more information: 415 152 3918 or ggaiamex@gmail.com.