I was ten when I was first introduced to the art of spoken word poetry during the movie, Anne of Green Gables. In the opening scene, Anne Shirley walks through the woods dramatically reading lines from her favorite poem, Lady of Shallot, by Alfred Tennyson. Her eyes are dazed. You can tell that she's imagining the scene she's reading:
little breezes dusk and shiver,
through the wave that runs forever,
by the island in the river
flowing down to Camelot.
From that moment, my little heart fell in love with poetry. Yet, it was not until I was nineteen years old that I began to share my poetry publicly. At that point I knew nothing about the world of Slam Poetry (a context in which spoken word poetry is most often shared), I just knew that I had words and stories inside of me that I needed to get out. I knew that it wasn't enough for those words to be read on paper or on the internet (my secret Tumblr), they needed to be read aloud. And so, with brave trepidation and a shaky voice to match, I leaned in and read my poems everywhere I could.
Slam Poetry is a space in which writers are permitted to share a spoken word piece in under three minutes in competition with other writers. The poet is judged by an audience based on content, performance, and time (you can read more about slam poetry here). When I began to venture into the world of slam, I was thoroughly impressed by the ways in which people shared their poems so vulnerably and passionately. Yet,though I was eager to soak up all I could learn about this art form, I became self-conscious of my creative voice. I heavily doubted the power of my words because when I first began writing poetry, it was not for the microphone. My early poems did not fit neatly into the competitive culture of slam poetry. It has taken me a while to navigate through these insecurities (and some days, I still deal with them). But, I have realized something in the process of embracing my voice: I do not write for the Poetry Slam.
I do not write for the three minutes of attention.
I do not write for the applause.
I do not write for the "sake" of being raw or vulnerable or risky.
I do not write to slam my poems.
My words are worth more than a three minute competition and a possible cash prize. However enjoyable spoken word competitions are, poetry exists to do more than be slammed.
This is Not About Slam Poetry
Spoken word is a performance of poetry or prose that is spoken aloud with conviction. You might experience spoken word performance in living rooms, at coffee shops, at speakeasies, and in bars. This kind of expression can often feel like one of two things:
- the feeling of a sudden ice bath, full of shock and with the need to readjust the body to accommodate all of the truths that might strip away at our cultural misconceptions
- the feeling of an early summer sun on skin, a gentle warmth that affirms the things that we feel passionately about
Here at the 5th Woman, we write to illuminate womanhood and the varied expressions and experiences of femininity in our culture. We do this because, for centuries, women have had their stories buried. Their names have been erased from manuscripts and the feminine footprint has fallen lost on the eyes of history across culture and globe.
we have been asked
to close our mouths
to close our legs
or to open them
to keep working
to heal quickly
to suck it up
to enjoy pain
to love monsters
and to raise them, too.
But there is a softly rising rebellion inside of each of us--it's a desire for justice and we have named it Poetry. For us, poetry is part of what happens when we allow our voices a space to speak honestly and be heard for all that they're worth. That's why we get up to the microphone and share verses on what healing from rape feels like, what it feels like when love harms the body, when trust is broken, and the heartache of being torn from our origins and forced to fit inside of nailed-shut boxes made of cultural "norms" that do not belong to us.
We are poets because we are tired of living inside of these boxes. We are poets because we keep the wild belief that our words are powerful enough to break out of spaces that exist to imprison our feminine expressions and mute our voices.
For me, one of the hardest parts of writing performance poetry is the brutal honesty. It's so risky to take the matters of my heart and craft them into a string of words with hope that someone might understand my kind of story a bit better. The work of honesty--even in fun and humorous poetry--can feel vulnerable and exhausting. But if the result of honesty is freedom, then it is so worth it. Through the art of spoken word, we have the opportunity to open our mouths and set both ourselves and others free; to unveil the beauty of all of the parts of womanhood that have been silenced into shame.
This is why I'm here. This is why I write. This why I overcome my shyness, and I share my poems on microphones. We are here for healing, truth, and hope, too. We don't shy away from hard topics. We choose to lean in, because people need us to--we need us to. We are here, not for the applause of the poetry slam, but to use our voices to cultivate freedom and celebrate the shapes, textures, and story lines of human beings.
We're raising $4,500 by May 5, 2017. Will you help us build the 5th Woman? Learn more at the link below!