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!
34 Replies to “Spoken Word Poetry – My Messy Beautiful”
Before I even get to the poem – WOWW – this line….gave me CHILLS, deep inside my soul. Wow!
“…skilled wordsmiths who stood and burned themselves like incense to the sky made me realize why an Old Testament god might have demanded offerings. “
Thank you!!!! I like how this one came out, myself… I was in a good creative spot when I wrote this. Lines like these seem to flow out like it’s not even ME writing them…
WriterSpirit. Love it! Love it when it happens to me 😀 You got mojo and you write it very well 🙂
thanks 😀 mojo = caffeine 😉 I often find that my best writing happens when I have a perfect caffeine dosage running through my veins! Haha. 😀
A compelling performance, m’dear, and lovely imagery. And (if it makes any sense) feelings can be explainable, even if you haven’t the words for them. Really well done – a great entry for Glennon’s hop 🙂
Thank you!!!! 🙂 🙂 Thankfully too I have learned that explaining feelings can happen, even if it takes time. So grateful for that one… although, poetry around my sisters’ deaths hasn’t happened yet. We’ll see if it ever does. I’m trying not to push it.
Not so much description, as explanation for their existence and heritage.
Don’t push it. If it’s meant to happen, one day you’ll wake up, and the words will be there, shimmering. Don’t rush them.
This was lovely in every way possible. Both your writing for the blog piece and your poem. I admire your ability to share such things…
Awww… thank you, friend. Honestly, spoken word in particular is the most terrifying for me. I can share written word like it’s nothing, but speaking it is entirely different.
You are good! When ever I’ve done spoken word I have always thought I was holding back, not giving enough of myself. You seem to embrace the room, and the words you use are moving and powerful. Kudos
Compelling and powerful.
“It’s like being a stripper but with your heart.” Oh, yes! Yes, yes, YES! It takes some serious cojones to get up on that stage and slam! I’ve spent too long stuck in the “not good enough” litany, myself. Kudos to you for getting out there & for sharing your courage with the rest of the world. 🙂
Oh my god yes it does. It’s really hard to push past the litany! I’ve had to do it over and over, and it is definitely one of the hardest, if not THE hardest, part of this process! My “victory” is hard won, that is for sure.
Thank you for stopping by, and for witnessing!! So appreciate it 🙂
Chills. I’m speechless and completely taken aback by your bravery. You have so inspired me. First, I think this essay was so well-written and your best so far. You are definitely finding yourself! And I know what you mean about the words flowing out like someone else was writing then. Those moments are so spiritual. Those moments bring it home for me that I’m a writer. Secondly, I love your spoken word piece. The metaphors gave me chills. You and your writing are both beautiful warriors! ❤
Awwww Deanna!! ❤ sister, you are. Thank you for your sweet, beautiful, encouraging words. On days like today that keeps me going. They are definitely spiritual! And somewhat caffeinated 😉 (Coffee and prayer are the same word in Swedish, so it totally makes sense) You're right though, those moments are confirmation that I'm meant to be turning words.
Thank you my dear friend, you're a beautiful warrior, yourself! So grateful for you.
That was really powerful. I’ve never been fond of reading poetry but to hear it spoken is so different. I know you’ll touch many people!
Thank you! Yes, spoken word poetry intentionally tries to be different… I think those of us doing it commonly refer to it as “poetry for the people.” Just another reason I love it.
Thank you for stopping by, it’s always wonderful to see you here, Karen. 🙂 Makes me smile. 🙂
“these poets hadn’t just written the words; they became funeral pyres to them.”
Your words took my breath away today.
I love everything about this post. You’re brave, and eloquent, and fiercely talented.
Wow Laurie. I had seen posts on FB and the like about your spoken word but I didn’t realize you’d posted a video. Sorry for taking so long to get over here. This was kick ass and I’m impressed– not just by your writing (holy eff, you packed so much in to that one delivery but it was still succinct and perfect and painful and hopeful) but also by your bravery. NO WAY could I do this in public OR on a video. Well done 🙂
Oh wow, oh wow, oh wow! I love this Laurie.
I agree with everyone, powerful and brave and one of your best shares.
“Well fuck it, if I die this will have been the best 8 seconds of my life.” — 😀
Thank you Christy!!!! 🙂 That means so much especially coming from you!
And haha… I had the best time writing that line, I had a grin as big as that one on my face 😀
Wowza! Speaking of wordsmiths. I do not have the gift of poetry, but through Lizzi and Beth and a few more of my favorite bloggers, I’m learning to appreciate it again like I did when I was an angsty teenager. Your words have so much power, and your voice is beautiful. So very moving.
Stupid question, but have you read the book “Slammed” by Colleen Hoover. It’s about slam poetry…a book that she wrote not expecting anything to happen, and now it’s a best seller with a movie option.
Ok, back to you….well done, SW.
Thank you soooo much Mandi! I just love poetry. ❤ Totally my first love, always.
I have not read that book! I am definitely going to look it up. It sounds so awesome!
The post leading up to that video was proof enough of your wordsmithing talents. So beautiful. I loved the spoken word poem. I haven’t yet found the courage to do one.
It’s terrifying! Totally understandable that you haven’t done one yet. I know it was one of the scariest things I’ve ever done, because it’s so emotionally vulnerable.
And thank you, Laura… 🙂 So glad you came by and read this.
I really want to showcase my work live also, I have a fear of public speaking so it may be actually therapeutic also.
I’ve at least taken the step of recording myself reading my poems on the blog.
Congrats on doing this for yourself, it’s not easy.
ps: I don’t know if the link will come through, but this is one of my favorite performances, this is Buddy Wakefield doing “Convenience Stores” – http://youtu.be/MyXUkUe5c8Q
Do it! It is absolutely terrifying, but the biggest thing I have discovered is that I learn so much more when I express it live.
I checked out your blog – you’re an awesome writer. I hope you do perform it live, it’s definitely performance worthy!
Laurie, thank you so much for having a read.
It means a lot that someone accomplished enjoyed my words.
I’ve been trying to get out to a show to listen to a performance, but they’re few and far between in Toronto
Thanks Laurie, I’m trying to check out some live shows but they’ve been few and far between in Toronto
I’m still learning to catch myself, too. I’m so lucky to be able to put on waders and slog out into the watery words with people like you. 🙂
It’s hard, isn’t it? At least I think so! Thanks for slogging along with me. 🙂