Professional poet James Nicola teaches students about mindfulness through poetry


Emily Seth

James Nicola visits the creative writing club during fourth period on club day.

by Emily Seth, Reporter

On Thursday, November 19th, 29 students went on stage and performed their poems for the Poetry Out Loud competition. However, quite a bit of planning and preparation went into the tournament, including having professional poet James Nicola give the competitors tips during the dress rehearsal on November 17th.

During Nicola’s two days at the school, he also visited two of Julian Lazarus’s drama classes and the creative writing club. For the Poetry Out Loud students, Nicola used the same workshop he does with professional poets to help them to recite their poems, “Sounding the Silence.”

“He gave me the proper instructions for speaking so I could get up there and say it all correctly,” freshman Poetry Out Loud competitor Nicole Muller said. You can watch her recite her poem here.

His workshop “Sounding the Silence” has two parts, “Meter and Music” and “White Space and Wonder.” “Meter and Music” introduces principles involved in rhyme and formal verse, using both modern-day poems and Shakespeare as examples. “White Space and Wonder” helps more with reciting and reading contemporary free verse.

In his workshop, Nicola appeared very passionate he was about what he did. He often spontaneously wrote down a new idea, and he showed students his poetry notebook: it was filled with scrawled down ideas and rough poems he thought of on the spot.

With this being as it is, it would be expected that Nicola writes because he enjoys it. However, it turns out that this isn’t the case.

“It’s a hope for democracy,” Nicola said. “Mindfulness is lacking in this society. That’s what I’m trying to teach here.”

Nicola is a renowned poet, a graduate from Yale who is a stage director by profession. He is also a composer, lyricist and playwright. He worked with band director Kevin Lloyd in 2000 on one of Nicola’s plays. Nicola’s children’s musical Chimes: A Christmas Vaudeville, premiered in Fairbanks, Alaska.

His poems have been widely published, both stateside and overseas in places such as Nimrod, Southwest Review, Atlanta Review, The Istanbul Review, and Poetry Salzburg.

Nicola has published two books, Manhattan Plaza, a book of poetry, and Playing the Audience: A Practical Actor’s Guide to Live Performance, which won a Choice award. Nicola has won many other awards as well, such as the Dana Literary Award, a People’s Choice award from Storyteller, and a Willow Review award.

As well as the awards he won, he was nominated twice for a Pushcart Prize, once for a Rhysling award, and was featured poet at New Formalist.

His second book of poetry, Stage to Page: Poems from the Theater, is going to be published in June of 2016.

“It’s not so much enjoyment. It’s the joy of giving and fighting the good fight,” Nicola said about his own writing.

Read additional information about the LHS Poetry Out Loud contest and winners.