For poet and high school algebra teacher Cory “Besskepp” Cofer, writing has always been part of the process of storytelling. He held a workshop Thursday at the Motley entitled “Art of Storytelling through Poetry,” in which he gave advice for how to capture what he explained was your most important possession as a writer: your personal stories.
He explained that many aspiring poets misguidedly try to emulate other poets, but “the one thing you can’t emulate is someone else’s story.”
“When I get writer’s block, that’s what I do, I write stories because they’re mine,” Cofer said.
Yet Cofer didn’t begin writing poetry. Rather, he was initially inspired by hip-hop and rap.
“That’s what got me into playing with words and rhyming with words and things like that,” he said.
It wasn’t until he took a creative writing class in High School that he began to write poetry.
Cofer later developed an interest in performing during a theater class he took while attending University of La Verne, which led to his final evolution into a spoken word poet.
Previously, Cofer participated on two national slam teams for many years, before he realized the potential dangers of slamming and stopped after 2002.
“I don’t even like reciting the poems that I wrote during that period of time in my life because I was writing for the wrong reasons. I was writing for scores as opposed to writing from my heart,” Cofer said.
Still, Cofer pointed out that slam poetry has done a lot of good for poetry on the whole.
“On the flip side, if it wasn’t for slam a lot of people wouldn’t be into poetry. When you think of poetry, if you haven’t been to an open mic or seen a slam, you just think of boring things that you hear in school, or Dr. Seuss and things like that, so it has given poetry some notoriety,” Cofer said.
Today, Cofer has returned to writing from the heart and often writes primarily solely for himself. Throughout his entire poetic career his original inspiration in hip-hop has remained infused into his work. He cited the hip-hop artists of the past in particular as great storytellers, inspiring Cofer even as a kid through their music.
“A lot of hip-hop artists I looked up to as leaders, like Public Enemy and Rakim and A Tribe Called Quest. So I learned a lot from hip-hop that I didn’t get at home,” Cofer said.
However, he doesn’t feel as inspired by modern hip-hop because of what he cites as a lack of storytelling.
“Hip-hop today is so much different from when I was growing up, back in the day when they’d be talking about something that had a purpose, or they had skills. Nowadays, a lot of what they talk about is what they have,” Cofer said.
Through his opinions on hip-hop’s changes over time and throughout his workshop, Cofer emphasized that telling your stories is key to producing creative work. From this follows his two pieces of advice for aspiring poets: write from the heart, and use your poetic license liberally.
“Don’t worry about grammar, don’t worry about punctuation, don’t worry about sentence fragments, just relax,” he said. “Don’t worry about what other people think.”
The workshop was hosted by 5Cs Out Loud as a part of April Out Loud, a month-long celebration of creative writing.