April 2007

Podunovich finds her voice in performance poetry

By Connie Gotsch

RENEE PODUNOVICHSome poets publish poetry. Some perform it. Some create poetry for family and friends. Some write it in private journals.

Renee Podunovich has done all of that. At this moment, she’s into performance poetry.

“I really like the idea of the spoken word. I’m. . . enjoying reading the poetry and hearing other people’s stories,” says the small, dark-haired young woman, who is also a nationally certified counselor with a private practice in Cortez, working with teens and adults.

Last January, she read her work in southern Colorado and northwest New Mexico as part of The Growing Voices series, sponsored by Southwest Colorado Arts Perspective magazine, in an attempt to identify Four Corners writers and give them a chance to read. in public.

The variety of presentations amazed Podunovich. “Because writing can be kind of isolating. It’s been wonderful to come and meet people and hear the disparity of thoughts and words that are in the region.”

Also through performance poetry, she discovered that the spoken word can capture dialect and vocal nuance that the written word cannot. She has also learned that reading a poem silently, then hearing it, gives her separate experiences with the work.

When she writes her own poems, she believes that words gestate inside her. Then something she sees lets her link several ideas, and she’ll “spill out a poem.”

Her piece “Breaking Rank” came to her that way. Stumbling across the word “rankism,” she began to think of ways to apply it to the fine arts. If a person had an master of fine arts in creative writing, would that make him or her a better poet than someone without a degree?

Was a published poet better than a non-published writer? She also pondered how people waited for some outside source to validate their writing.

One day driving to meet a friend, “Breaking Ranks” arrived in her head. She had to stop several times to write ideas down. When poetry hits her, “it’s kind of like a waterfall,” she laughs.

“Breaking Ranks” encourages people to write for themselves, and not worry about other people’s opinions of their work.

The experience offering that message made Podunovich realize even more clearly the importance of performance poetry. “There has to be some way to give people a chance to step up and say, ‘I’m a poet. Here are my words. Would you like to hear them?’”

Podunovich sees a close relationship between being a therapist and her desire to write. “Writing comes out of my own self-expression and my own life events.” Through it, she processes what happens to her, and presents it to the world.

Though writing isn’t her primary source of income, she has been thrilled recently to receive small stipends for written and performance work through Southwest Colorado Arts Perspective magazine.

Podunovich has also published poetry The Mississippi Review on Line, and Ruah, a magazine published in Berkeley, Calif., focusing on spiritual matters.

She helped publish a small Zine “in the photocopy realm of things,” called Department of Peace: A Field Manuel of Common Tasks and Essential Poems in Times of War. It represented a collection of responses to the start of the conflict in Iraq at a “very emotional time for a lot of people.”

She has also posted poems on www.poethunter.com, proudly admitting that her name came right before Edgar Allen Poe’s.

Laughter ripples her words. “Anyone can get up there,” and get comments, or read work from all over the world.

When she first published on line, Podunovich wasn’t sure she liked the idea. Then she realized she could email her friends and relatives and tell them to read her poem. The idea thrilled her that almost anyone could now access poetry.

A certified herbalist who learned the art from an herbalist/MD in Albuquerque, Podunovich has grown her own medicines near her earthship home in Dolores. Prior to opening a private counseling practice, she made tinctures and teas professionally. Now she does so for family and friends.

Nature themes, seasonal cycles, and water appear throughout her poems. “I’m pretty free with my visual images,” she says

Podunovich grew up in Steamboat Springs, Colo., attended high school in Boulder, and went to Fort Lewis College. She started experimenting with poetry on scraps of paper around age 15. Her mother saw what she was doing, and bought her a journal.

“I still have that one. It’s kind of ratty,” Podunovich laughs. “But somehow it was kind of sweet to me that my mom took notice of something I loved so much.”

Podunovich still keeps a journal, filled with personal thoughts, fragments of poems, collages, images that she considers important, and art work. She calls herself a budding visual artist, and sees a strong relationship between word and image.

“Certainly I have an easier time expressing myself through words, and it’s just a different process to do art.” She sees a bright future for poetry through the rap and rhyme her students produce.

And that brings her back to performance. “I feel like I’ve found a new voice I didn’t have before,” says Podunovich, contented.