I can remember watching spoken word poetry videos as early as junior year of high school, when Ms. Wagner accompanied our Honors British Literature lesson on Chaucer with a unit on Def Jam Poetry.(1)
This might be the first time someone presented me with contemporary examples of writers I could relate to. I remember enjoying a lot of the videos we watched–we watched what would become Kanye’s Gold Digger,(2) Steve Colmon’s I Wanna Hear a Poem, Lauryn Hill’s powerful Motives and Thoughts, all of which I found interesting, but it was poets like George Watsky(3) and Sarah Kay who really stuck with me. They were close to my age, and I felt like I actually knew how to relate to them. They were talking about things in a language I spoke. Sarah Kay especially. Here she was, a young woman speaking strongly and intelligently about something other than being obsessed with a boy. After that, I was hooked.
This year I’ve slowly been figuring out how I ground myself; when you move around a lot, you have two choices. You can either lose yourself and get lost in the moment (country), or you can find yourself, and feel centered wherever you are.(4) When I’m looking for inspiration, my sources have been books, Ted Talks, Spoken Word Poetry, and music.
Sarah Kay has consistently made this list for me. Her duets with Phil Kaye, her heart breaking Postcards, her Ted Talk, random posts I check in on whenever I go on a spoken word poetry YouTube Binge. I identify with her a lot. I’ve recently felt stuck in a creative desert, so today I decided to seek out some Sarah for inspiration. I found this video, which was posted while I was in Nepal. I immediately felt like she was speaking to me, and you can imagine my surprise when, at 10 minutes in, she starts talking about her own time in Nepal. Now, some of Sarah’s other poems had already begun to lead me to believe that we were incredibly similar. She describes working with girl’s in India as well as her love of learning in Mrs. Robeiro. She talks about reincarnation in If I Should Have a Daughter. But here, as she discusses her Temple–what she believes in, what she works towards–my own passion for my own work is becoming reinvigorated.
Around 12 minutes in, she discusses the earthquake. In her words, I see the faces of my friends. I feel the ground we slept on, and the way we rolled up our mats at 5:30 each morning while the boys prepared for puja(5) and I (shamefully) walked back to my room to try and sleep a little more(6). I don’t know how to write about the time I spent there–it feels a little too precious to put into words, if I’m being honest–but I do know that I hope I can inspire in my friends there what Sarah Kay has inspired in me. I hope that they find words, and that I find my own.
I’m not sure where this will lead me. I’m not sure what kind of blog posts this shall bring, how it will shape my own stories, my own battles, my navigation through my own prose. Thanks for taking the time to read this, and if you decide to stick around, we can find out together.
TLDR I carry my influences like I carry my badges on Untappd–with curiosity and a sense of adventure. In this blog, you’ll find a collection of them.
2 Which, even though it had been edited for appropriateness, still pretty much made Ms. Wagner the coolest teacher ever among the boys.
3 In class, we watched the abridged version from Def Jam Poetry.
4 This is a longer subject for a different day, but for starters I find both to be equally rewarding in different ways.
5 Puja is what Buddhists and Hindus call their prayer rituals. While I was at the monastery, there were two daily–one in the morning and one at night, and more for holidays and other special occasions.
6 I know it defies all logic, but it felt safer to be in the room during the day than at night. This was also the only way I felt at all rested enough to teach.