I just got back from one of the most moving poetry reading experiences I’ve ever lived through and I’m fucked up. I feel like several things have twisted loose inside and I’m not sure how to put them back together, or even what the pieces are.
It was a slam. I don’t even like slams. I don’t like the way they’re scored, I don’t generally go for the notion of scoring poetry at all- but I went to this one. I went because several of the poets on the list were people I’d really like to see do their thing. I went because it was a final that would select the actual team traveling from New York for this particular poetry slam circuit so it was the best of their best. I went because one of my boys was going to be in it, and when I called him, he added just the touch of yes-it’s-worth-coming-to that I needed.
Me and my Lady went together. There were maybe three poets before it got started, and then two more ‘sacrificial poets’ before it really got started and then it started. My boy told me that the difference between this slam and others was that there was no undercutting, or weird energy between competing poets. He said it was a group where each poet strove to form more of a relationship with the audience; came from a more authentic place.
He was spot on. I have never in my life been brought to tears twice in one night by back to back poets at a single reading. Ever. Male and female, black and white, they pulled from some of the deepest parts of themselves and splayed the gory pieces across the stage for the audience to partake. They spit from such incredibly vulnerable places that I was left rocked to my core and severely shaken after particular pieces. They did not hide their fears, and their insecurities and their wounds, but used them as ways of carving through the walls that separated them from us and yanked us headlong into their experiences of the world around them.
No subject was taboo, and no telling of it was crass, or base. From sexual orientation, to sexual abuse and back round again to loving sensuality and then on into the chasm of suicide and dealing with the aftermath of it. I am a black male. To sit in a room and listen to white people speak intelligently; speak poetically, about the state of hip hop, about the understanding of what it means to be universally privileged, about the many appropriations and usurpations of bits of black culture from music to dance; to sit in a room full of black, white, asian, latino, mixed race, and others listening to white poets speak of the black experience in a way that moved me as a black man- was mind blowing. To sit in that same room, full of those same people, and listen to a black female poet, speak about her racial experiences of white people, and the oblivious inconsiderateness, and the unconscious awkwardness; to listen to her recite a poem to a room full of white people written from the perspective of a character in ‘the Color Purple’, and watch and FEEL as those same people took in this woman’s experience, as she reached and pulled and yanked from a point so deep inside herself and her experiences both individual and collective that she recited while tears poured from her eyes, and never missed a beat of her poem- that did something to me.
I have never experienced anything like that in my life. I do not know if I ever will again. For me, a great many things were shaken loose. A great many things will never be the same. I couldn’t even necessarily tell you what those things are, or will be. What I can say is that after the applause finally died, and the pictures were being taken, and hugs passed round like beers, like drinks, like prayers- I was left moved. I was left shaken.
I am left with questions like: what happens when another speaks for you? [ and they do so eloquently ]
what happens when your best representative is someone who is not you?
What IF the best chance you have of making those whom you’re speaking to hear what you have to say is by making them hear it through someone else’s mouth? Someone who looks a lot more like them? Because you are not them. And they will not hear you. But there are those who are them, who DO hear you. Who DO feel you. What happens when members of the one group you least expected to understand, actually do?
We live in bubbles. New York is definitely its own extremely unique bubble, but all of the United States is most assuredly covered in bubbles. I feel so blessed, and so honored, and so amazed and awe struck that I was able to experience this night. Although I do no know what things in particular are to come of it, one thing I am absolutely sure of is that I will carry this with me, and allow my actions to be at least partially informed by it, for the rest of my life.