Diction for Diction: A Declamation Platform

Imagine saying, “Diction, diction, diction. Diction? Diction,” for five minutes straight in front of an audience. Katherine Snell PO ’15 did. Or perhaps imagine expanding that vocabulary to express your internal thoughts, prose, or emotions. Americans possess the right to free speech and have the ability to pose their opinions whenever they choose, yet this right is rarely exercised to its full extent. Artists and students at Pomona College hoped to address this issue by giving students their own soapbox.

Last November, the Pomona College Museum of Art hosted artist Adam Overton’s exhibit, “The Bureau of Experimental Speech and Holy Theses” (BESHT), for which the museum was transformed into an open forum, reading room, and performance space. Every week, the exhibit hosted Diction for Dollars, in which students and members of the public were paid one dollar for every minute they spoke to an audience and a camera that later posted all their talks on YouTube. Students flocked to Diction for Dollars, where they could make up to 20 dollars for speaking while also receiving a platform on which to release their pent-up internal rants.

When Diction for Dollars ended, Will Carpenter PO ’15 and Wes Haas PO ’15 decided in December to recreate this public forum weekly for the students who missed the opportunity to speak their mind. 

“We had had some good times at Diction for Dollars, so we figured we’d put on our own event, keeping with the spirit of Diction for Dollars as much as we could,” Carpenter said. “Since we didn’t have any money to give out, we just called it Diction for Diction, which is exactly what the event is: an exchange of words.”

On Feb. 1, Carpenter acted as emcee for “Diction For Diction, Part 2: More Diction in the Blaisdell TV Lounge at Pomona College.” Throughout the evening, about 25 students filtered in and out of the lounge to sit, listen, or venture up to the makeshift podium. Speakers came with written speeches or prepared poetry, while many others merely recited the dialogues inside their heads. Some speakers provided entertainment for the crowd, including Jonathan Feingold PO ’15, who read from the script of The Big Lebowski and dubbed The Dude the quintessential Los Angeles hero, and one student who read from a 1950s pamphlet called “Teenagers and Dope.”

However, the speeches that really grabbed the audience were personal dialogues about death, sadness, and philosophy. Multiple students talked about the internal struggle between mind and intellect they face in college. Others were reduced to tears as they spoke about personal issues. One speaker even entitled her talk “Everyone is Sad.” 

Carpenter commented, “Some people joke that the event is just group therapy in disguise. Even though free speech is the only goal of the event, it’s interesting that a lot of people use the chance of free speech to talk so candidly about their emotions.” 

Carpenter and Haas hope to continue Diction for Diction throughout the semester. 

“For now, Diction for Diction is working pretty well as an informal, sporadic event, but if we can bring in more people or deepen the conversation by becoming an official club, we might do that,” Carpenter said. “The level of intimacy at the last event led to some talks that were very emotionally affecting for myself and for some people I’ve talked with, so we’re going to wait at least a couple of weeks before we do it again … On a side note, I also like the funny talks.”

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