Bob Moyer '66

Slammaster Bob Moyer '66 revels in the demands of competitive poetry

Wiggles in hand like fish
Hooked, I cannot throw her back

--Robert L. Moyer '66

Bob Moyer, holding his newborn granddaughter Erin Kristin, gave himself over to the pleasurable feeling and recorded the moment with a bit of haiku poetry. A recent winner of the Head-to-Head Haiku Championship at "A Gathering of Poets," Moyer is a self-confessed haiku addict.

"I think it's the simplicity and directness of the communication that has me entranced," he says. "It demands that you say what you have to say in a limited form. I've been writing haiku daily for at least two years."

Moyer credits his fondness for succinct writing to Denham Sutcliffe, a legendary Kenyon professor of English who passed away in 1964. Sutcliffe admonished his students to say what they had to say in one page. Then, he suggested, condense the idea to a paragraph, a line, or a single word, if possible.

Although a writer and a poet, Moyer says his first mistress was, and continues to be, theater. "I took a class with Professor of Drama James Michael, and I was hooked," he says. "From that moment on, I lived in the theater, acting and experimenting with producing, directing, and technical direction. My passion for the theater was directly responsible for my finishing in the bottom tenth of my class."

The letter grade on the transcript, as so many well know, is not the final predictor of success in life. Encouraged by Michael and another drama professor, Michael Birtwhistle, Moyer went on to earn a master of fine arts degree from Tulane University, after which he worked for Chicago's Second City Company. He was taken by the work of Viola Spolin, whose book Improvisation for the Theater, published in 1963, is a classic reference text for teaching spontaneity and creative problem solving on the stage. Now a teacher himself, Moyer continues to use the two hundred and twenty games and exercises in Spolin's book with his students. "That style of expression," he explains, "replicates the feeling I had when I first discovered theater, and it keeps it alive and fresh."

Moyer is director of the preprofessional drama program at the North Carolina School of the Arts, one of the sixteen University of North Carolina campuses. In 1999, he was awarded the Excellence in Teaching Award for his work with the high-school seniors who make up the program. "My mission is to keep them from going to acting school," he says only half-jokingly. He is also director of the Drama Summer School and of Shakespeare Lives!, a unique teacher-training collaboration with the Globe Theatre in London, England.

An avocation that brings together Moyer's love of language, poetry, and the theater is Poetry Slam. He is the slammaster of the Winston-Salem Poetry Slam and a winner of numerous slams.

Slam poetry is the brainchild of Chicago poet Marc Smith, who, in 1986, organized the first event to entertain the Sunday regulars at a bar called Green Mill. Judges, randomly chosen from the audience, score poets on a scale from one to ten; the poet with the highest score at the end of the evening wins. The audience participation and the democratic nature of the event have helped the Slam catch on across the country. In many cities and regions, local competitions are used to choose four-poet teams. Each year since 1989, teams from around the country have converged on a different city to compete in the National Grand Slam. The rules are few and simple: all work must be original to the poet; no props, costumes, or background music is permitted; and there is a three-minute limit for all performances.

"The Slam is the epitome of freedom of speech and free expression," says Moyer. "For all my theater training and experience, the most difficult thing for me has been performing my own writing. It's personally revealing when I hear one of those natural poets communicate a whole way of looking at things and a whole history of living in a three-minute poem."

Another aspect that is particularly appealing to Moyer is the nonacademic nature of the poetry slam. "Academics scoff at this," he says. "But in this environment, credentials don't mean a thing. The audience members are the judge, and they snap their fingers and stomp and whistle to show approval or disapproval. Is it literature? I don't know. But it's very powerful. It's what life is all about."


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