Storyteller weaves tales at Poetry Center

October 27, 2014 - Kelsey Block

Michigan storyteller, musician and educator Robin Nott visited the RCAH Center for Poetry last week as the first guest of the 2014 Fall Writing Series.

The 64-year-old said he first became interested in storytelling as a child at camp, but didn’t explore it in depth until he saw Storyteller Donald Davis speak at Ferris State University in 1981. From there, Nott said he combined his love for folk singing with storytelling.

“For me, music fits in as a part of the common cannon of our heritage. The story of our tradition is as musical as it is story-like … To me, they’re equal in appeal and age,” Nott said.  “All communication is negotiation, and oral tradition is the first negotiation … It’s really fundamental to our existence. Our lives are narratives… People sometimes perceive story as purely entertainment, when actually it’s fundamental communication.”

Nott teaches oral tradition at Gull Lake Community Schools in southwest Michigan. Many of his lessons and workshops incorporate movement as well as music and storytelling.

RCAH students Josh Schriver and Elsa Finch follow Nott’s instructions during a workshop in RCAH professor Estrella Torrez’s civic engagement class.

“When I educate on a daily basis in public schools, I educate utilizing the whole person, and I make sure that all of their domains of learning are covered – the sensory as well as the intellectual,” Nott said.  “The body is a huge learning device, and a mistake a lot of people make in education is that they view the body as only something to carry the head around from class to class. The body is a very powerful stimulator for learning. It fires people up to move, to touch each other, to express with their whole body. It really activates their depth and range of learning.” 

Also prominent in Nott’s work is a sense of place.

“It’s about me being able to invite you to a place so that you’ll join me there, and proceed to also involve you in what happens there and who’s there, so a sense of place is huge,” Nott said, adding that the listener is just as important as the story itself.

“It’s a two-party system. You’ve heard ‘if a tree falls in the forest’? It’s very similar. If a story is told in the forest and nobody’s there to hear it, is it really a story? In one sense, it is, because of the need for the person to tell that story, but in another sense, it isn’t, because nobody heard the story,” he said.  

Nott said one of the biggest challenges storytellers face today is our increasing reliance on technology.

“Oral storytelling has a lot to do with people getting back to evaluating their story and realizing its significance,” he said.