Marta Churchwell: Spiva’s annual poetry event now underway | lifestyles

It’s said that every picture tells a story. If that’s the case, then Spiva Center for the Arts has more than 90 stories hanging in its Man Gallery as part of its annual PhotoSpiva national photography exhibit.

Writers will have the chance to tell their perceptions of those photo stories during Spiva’s annual 1,000 Words poetry event set for 6 pm Tuesday, April 19, at Spiva, 222 W. Third St. The evening of readings of the poetry, prose and stories prompted by the photographs is part of the local observance of National Poetry Month during the month of April.

This is the 13th year that writers have been invited to select one or two exhibition photos as springboards for writings that are shared at the event. The writings do not have to be 1,000 words. They can be any length, even a few lines, but excessive length is discouraged. They can be poetry, prose or simply stories that place a photo into words.

Such a marriage of writings with photographs is considered an art form known as photopoetry that is growing in popularity and frequently used as a creative writing teaching tool. Consider that writings and photographs are not unlike paintings that express feelings, a poignant moment or perceptions of reality. Poetry and prose are written snapshots just as photographs are visual prose or poetry.

The 1,000 Words event started after Spiva exhibits coordinator Shaun Conroy enrolled in a creative writing class at Missouri Southern State University and he invited classmates to tour the PhotoSpiva exhibit to find prompts for their writings, followed by readings of their work.

Using PhotoSpiva as a prompt for the students was so well received that 1,000 Words was established as an annual event. Some of those original writers have continued to participate. Each year, there is an average of 20 participants and a listening audience of about 40.

“Every year it’s been a nice mix of styles and subject matter,” says Conroy. “It’s really good.”

The event attracts seasoned writers as well as beginning ones. For the latter, Conroy offers some advice to get the writing moving.

Study each photo and experience the senses, feelings or symbolism that it evokes. Eventually, one will speak to you. But, Conroy warns, select more than one photograph. Sometimes, he says, it can appear that a photo offers a good prompt, but the words fail when it’s time to write.

Have fun with the writing, he advises.

“When people hear the word ‘poetry’ a lot of them forget that it doesn’t have to be difficult and it can be funny,” Conroy says. “People who haven’t gone to poetry slams don’t realize that there’s a lot of humor injected in poetry now.”

Also remember that poems don’t have to rhyme. Sometimes, Conroy says, rhythm is more important.

That becomes evident during the readings. Presentation can be everything with these writings. Take time in reading them so listeners can absorb the words while studying the photograph, Conroy says.

“My advice is to slow down,” he says. “Don’t go too fast.”

For those uncomfortable with reading their works in public, reading proxies will be provided.

At the readings, each selected photo is projected on a screen to provide the imagery being captured by the writers. The readings are recorded and uploaded to, so people who can’t attend the readings may enjoy them at another time. After logging into soundcloud.comenter Spiva Center for the Arts into the search.

Following the event, QR codes are placed by the selected 1,000 Word photographs so exhibit viewers can listen to what was written about them, again, via

The sound cloud platform contains 1,000 Words readings from as far back as eight years. This can be helpful for those who want examples of how past participants have presented their photopoetry.

Writers wishing to participate must sign up prior to the night of readings by emailing

This is not only an opportunity for writers searching for venues for exposure, it also can be a valuable experience for high school or college students enrolled in creative writing or poetry classes.

The 1,000 Words event is among a variety of poetry experiences that are being offered locally as part of National Poetry Month, now in its 26th year of observance.

One coming event is An Evening of Poetry by Langston Hughes, set for 6 pm Friday, April 22, at Spiva. It’s being presented by the Minnie Hackney Community Service Center and Langston Hughes Cultural Society in partnership with Spiva.

Also scheduled is National Poem in Your Pocket Day on Friday, April 29. Presented locally by Post Art Library, Connect2Culture and Pub Hound Press, this is part of a national effort in which people are urged to select a poem, carry it with them through the day and share it with others, whether among friends or at schools, coffee shops, libraries, or online. Pocket poems will be available at the Joplin Public Library and local coffee shops for those who do not wish to select their own poems.


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