Recently, I got involved with spoken word poetry.
Now, I’ve been a poet since I was 15. I spin words like a grandma spins yarns for knitting blankets, sweaters, and baby booties. Some of you have picked up on my poetic ways through various posts. However, spoken word is a whole new experience to me. I’m not just reading my poetry. I’m acting my poetry. That’s totally out of my comfort zone. But I am inexplicably drawn to it. I can’t get over it.
The first time I saw spoken word poetry, I was blown away. I instantly thought, “I want to do that.” I twiddled my thumbs and didn’t pick it up again until last year. I was required to do a creative project for my Psychology of Diversity class, and I decided I would do a spoken word poem. It took me a month or more to get the words just right. It was so fun to perform and so fun to see how speechless people were.
I still wasn’t all in, but people kept mentioning this spoken word poetry thing to me. A fellow classmate at my school went to the meet up on campus. I thought about going but it was my last semester. I finally went to my first slam with a dear friend in February. It was a Friday night after a long week and I debated not going, but in the end, I pushed myself out of my apartment and down the street to the nearby slam. I walked in and had the pleasure of sitting on the front row. I didn’t know what this was going to mean.
I saw the expressions, the tears, the anguish, the passion bleeding across every face that walked up to that stage. Even on the faces that felt superfluous, redundant, mortified and ashamed to be standing shredding their hearts in front of a room of half-strangers, passion was lurking. And the skilled wordsmiths who stood and burned themselves like incense to the sky made me realize why an Old Testament god might have demanded offerings. These poets hadn’t just written the words; they became funeral pyres to them.
Fire is catching, especially to a fellow wordsmith.
Their words spilled out onto me like the perfume the prostitute poured on Jesus’ feet. She washed his feet with tears, kissed them, dried them with her hair. My dirty, road-weary heart full of care was doused in a sacrifice bought by their full year’s salary. I cried because I heard, in the echoes and the timbre of their voice, the same story I told in my darkest and brightest moments. When they talked about sorrow, I saw my dying sister’s face on a white hospital bed. These poets took death, love, sex, passion, social prison, and all the feelings of inadequacy, and showcased them like jewels for the world to see.
I wanted to do that. Desperately. And something in my heart jumped then and I thought, “I can do this. I need to do this.” Because every word they were saying was every word I’ve been saying since I was 15 years old and begging for someone to listen to me. I knew these people, because we’re all connected somehow. And because the quiet words I’ve written and kept to myself are the ones they were living out loud. They were warrior freaks and unashamed, and I cracked open a little more in the presence of their brightness.
Vulnerability is catching, too.
So I read, officially, for the first time a week later. My hands were shaking and I could barely look at the audience.
I’ve been a poet for more than 10 years, but bearing my heart like lion’s teeth and having that kind of audacity – well, that’s new. It’s nothing to write these words here where I don’t actually have to speak them. But there’s something about hearing your voice echo through a room. You’re exposed. It’s like being a stripper but with your heart. Your words are dancing on a pole, sliding out of your mouth, wrapping back and forth like a snake. And all I could wonder at that moment was, “Am I good enough?”
I know my quiet written words are good enough. I know when I’ve written a kick-ass poem, or a well-crafted blog. But this was new. This feeling of being so inside my element yet so. damn. vulnerable. My respect for these poets has grown by the hour as I feel the fear whipping at me like high-speed winds on a clifftop. Standing in front of that microphone is like jumping into the abyss.
Yet, it’s taught me something new about bravery, and courage, and staying with my mess.
It‘s shown me that audacity is windmill-kicking that gripping, gnawing fear right in the face. It’s trying again even though your soul wants to stay in the “not good enough” litany it always provides. And when you still feel inadequate, and small, and like an island to yourself up on that stage with all the eyes boring into your soul, it’s telling yourself, when you leave, that bravery isn’t built by doing only the things you know how to do best. It’s built by grabbing your passion by the horns. Cuz you’ve got Old Red underneath you, and it’s the biggest, baddest bull of them all. Unbroken and untested in the arena and you’ve got to stay on for 8 seconds and you have no damn idea how. And courage is saying, “Well fuck it, if I die this will have been the best 8 seconds of my life.” So you get on, and you ride.
That’s real bravery for me, right there. Not just sticking with what I know best, but jumping out into new territory. Being a trailblazer.
The last time I read was two nights ago – Saturday night. I wasn’t going to read. But I decided to just go for it anyway, with a raw, vulnerable poem I’d written after the last slam. I’d stayed up until 2am trying to write something good enough for the audience, and finally when I was worn down and squeezed out, I gave up. I gave up and wrote about how painful it is to try to find words to encapsulate something that’s indescribable. I went down to the rawest part of my soul and plumbed it, pulling up the junk for all of them to see. That was the poem I chose to read only two nights ago.
It’s the poem I’m going to read for you, now.
This essay and I are part of the Messy, Beautiful Warrior Project — To learn more and join us, CLICK HERE! And to learn about the New York Times Bestselling Memoir Carry On Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Messy, Beautiful Life, just released in paperback, CLICK HERE!