A few years ago, while attempting to pare down the rather sizeable list of to-watch TEDtalks I’d accumulated, a talk that opened with a spoken word poem caught my attention, and my heartstrings. It was Sarah Kay’s “If I should have a daughter…” Even once the poem had ended, Sarah was delightful to listen to as she went on to discuss what spoken word poetry is to her.
I was soon curious to hear more of, not only Sarah’s poems, but others as well. This was relatively new territory for me, having never heard or experienced much spoken work poetry before, but I was eager, and handsomely rewarded.
I spent months of solid listening to spoken word poetry from all kinds of poets on a multitude of topics, hungry for more, searching for the ones that gave me chills or made me want to cry by the end, sometimes poems that had me laughing, or conveyed a shared experiences; poems that struck through my heart and pierced into my soul and stayed there; poems I couldn’t get out of my head, and that still remain.
I have resisted the urge to repeatedly share each one as I find, watch and rewatch them, but they deserve to be shared, listened to, and remembered. So, I’ve collected a handful of my extreme favorites to share. Whether you listen to them all at one time, or return to listen now and then, I cannot recommend these poems enough and hope that you take the times to listen to a few.
Normally I would be prone to give a comment about each, but I would rather let the poets speak for themselves, so I’ve added a couple quotes instead; the best way to experience them is to actually do so by listening.
(There are some sensitive topics covered, please take care of yourself if any of them becomes too much or triggering)
Mental Illness/Mental Health
Catalina Ferro– Anxiety Group
“..these people who fight everyday like fucking gladiators who fight demons worse than you and I can dream of, just because they want so badly to live, to hold on, to love, because you can’t be this afraid of losing everything if you don’t love everything first….”
Neil Hilborn– Joey
“When I wanted to open myself up and see if there were really bees rattling around in there, my parents got my a therapist. I can pinpoint the session that brought be back to the world, that session cost $75…it took weeks of $75 to get to the one that saved my life. We both had parents that believed us when we said we weren’t okay but mine could afford to do something about it…”
Javon Johnson & Terisa Siagatonu– PTSD
“When is his teacher going to stop sending him to the principal and start sending him to the counselor? Why do we fire the counselor? What happened to the art classes, to PE, and health center, because trauma is an STD, a socially transmitted disease; meaning my trauma is your trauma, your/his/her trauma is mine, and that what it means to be in a community. There only difference there is between a solider with PTSD and one of my students with it is a soldier gets to leave the battlefield while my kids go home to it…”
Denice Frohman– Weapons
“At entrance of a white Philadelphia high school, officer with gun perched on each hip asks me if I a weapon. I hold my book, he doesn’t find that funny….I’m escorted to an audtorium with 130 black and latino students. We talk about hip hop, they think poetry is what old white people do…I ask them if they have dreams…another student in the 8th row tries to decide if this is a trick question. There’s no right answer, I say, but they’re far too comfortable with the right to remain silent…the principal is now staring at me in anticipation of what I have to say next. He’s afraid that they will leave with weapons. I am afraid they will not know the ones that already exist”.
Taylor Mali -What Teachers Make
“…I can make a C+ feel like a congressional medal of honor. I can make an A- feel like a slap in the face; how dare you waste my time with anything less than than your best? …You want to know what I make? I make kids wonder, I make then question, I make them criticize, I make them apologize and mean it…”
Dylan Garity– Rigged Game
“(my sister) teaches ESL in an elementary school in Boston and every week she tells me stories about her students…learning to read in a new language when you can’t even read in your own is like trying to heal a burn victim by drowning them. We are telling these children, who have spent their whole lives in the deep end, that they’ll learn how to swim if they just float out a little farther…the winners of a rigged game should not get to write the rules”
Men’s & Women’s Issues
Lily Myers– Shrinking Women
“I learned to absorb, I took lessons from our mother in creating space around myself…Nights I hear her creep down to eat plain yogurt in the dark, a fugitive stealing calories to which she does not feel entitled; deciding how many bites is too many, how much space she deserves to occupy…”
Katie Makkai– Pretty
“The word hangs from our mothers’ hearts in a shrill fluorescent floodlight of worry, ‘Will I be wanted? Worthy? Pretty?’ …I have not seen my own face in 10 years, but this is not about me. This is about the self-mutilating circus we have painted ourselves clowns in. About women who will prowl 30 stores in 6 malls to find the right cocktail dress, but haven’t a clue where to find fulfillment or how wear joy, wandering through life shackled to a shopping bag, beneath those 2 pretty syllables.”
Guante– Ten Responses to the Phrase ‘Man Up’
“…contrary to what you may believe, not every problem can be solved by “growing a pair.” You can’t arm-wrestle your way out of chemical depression. The CEO of the company that just laid you off does not care how much you bench. And I promise, there is no lite beer in the universe full-bodied enough to make you love yourself.”
Sierra Demulder– Paper Dolls
“Imagine each victim is an acrobat. Her sanity, a balancing act. Our response is the unfailing safety net. We never expect to see her across the wire….Nothing was stolen from you. Your body is not a hand-me-down. There is nothing that sits inside you holding your worth, no locket that can be seen or touched, fucked from your stomach to be left on concrete. I know it’s hard to feel perfect when you can’t tell an Adam’s apple from a fist. Some ashtray of a man picked you to play his Eden but I will not watch you collapse.”
Dylan Garity– Friend Zone
“The problem is, when I started thinking of myself as a savior, I ended up thinking of myself as a savior with a salary. You put in your hours as a nice guy and sex is just a living wage but sex is not a transaction.Sex is not a handshake to seal some deal. That girl did not owe me anything.”
Anna Binkovitz– Asking For
“But in my experience, one of the chief perks of having sex with an adult is that if they want something, they can ask for it. For instance, if I’m at dinner with my mom and I want her to pass the salt, I don’t put on my special salt costume. I ask for the salt! With my word place!”
Denice Frohman– Dear Straight People
“..Dear Straight People, You’re the reason we stay in the closet. You’re the reason we even have a closet. I don’t like closets, but you made the living room an unshared space and now I’m feeling like a guest in my own house.Dear Straight People, Sexuality and gender? Two different things combined in many different ways. If you mismatch your socks, you understand…”
Ethan Smith- A Letter to the Girl I Use to Be
“I tried to cross you out like a line in my memoir. I wished I could erase completely
And maybe I’m misunderstanding the definition of death. But even though parts of you still exist, you are not here…”
Joy Young– The Queer Hokey-Pokey
“She beamed about it—her hair her own queer bat-signal in the sky announcing her lesbian arrival,though she’s been here as long as I remember. She finally felt super: stripped of her invisibility, empowered, her remaining hair wrapped around her neck like a lasso of truth. She chokes out another gasp of ‘I’m gay’ when men come onto her, and they’ll believe her now.”
Cassidy Foust- Ghostbusters (is so gay…)
“The new ghostbusters move is so gay that no one is actually allowed to talk about it…a generation of queer girls leaves the theater masters of hide-and-seek…we know we can only exist on screen as Schrodinger’s Queer…”
About using your voice and standing up
Sam Cook– Flatland
“Each of us only gets so many opportunities to show another person that humanity is more than just the people behind you who will trample you when you fall.”
Marshall Davis Jones– Touchscreen
“….doesn’t it feel good to touch? my world is so digital that I have forgotten what that feels like. It used to be hard to connect when friends formed cliques but it’s even more difficult to connect now that clicks form friends…iPod iMac iPhone iChat I can do all of these things without making eye contact…”
These poems and many more have inspired me with my own poetry, even to the point of being curious to try spoken word myself. Perhaps some day.
What did you think of these? Do you have any favorites of your own? Have you ever tried or thought about attempting to do some spoken word yourself? Please comment, I’d love to know!