Spoken word poetry has a tendency to turn everyday feelings into captivating emotions.
Much stronger than the written word, a poem tumbling out of a writer’s mouth becomes a performance piece. For the audience, there is no looking away.
At Spoken Word: Behind the Curtain at Sardis secondary during a lunch hour this week, nine young poets take turns the microphone. As they each steady themselves under the spotlight, they are embodied by their poems. Emotions that would usually be contained within the lines on the page launch out like missiles into the darkened room. Innuendo and double meanings are shared with a knowing look. Empathy is drawn with soft voices and pleading eyes.
Their actions speak much louder than their carefully thought out words.
So much so, that when Hyacinth Lithgow steps to the mic her anger grows hotter than hellfire.
And when Siobhan Robinson addresses sadness, she becomes heart-breaking, full-body sorrow.
And even when Fay Ewing cracks wise, challenging the norm on love and marriage, the audience is in her palm and they rock with laughter that she alone created.
It can’t be easy, but these poets pull off the job like professionals. Over the course of a lunch break, in the sliver of space behind the main stage, the poets tell a collective story of youth. They’ve written about the ridiculousness of philosophy, bad relationships and self esteem. They speak about physical abuse and suicide with shivering, cold truth in their voices.
In the isolation of the spotlight, the poets can share their deepest thoughts with an understanding peer group.
In her piece Red Rum, Kelsey Carlson tells them “I should be shooting toward my destiny like a bullet from a gun,” with the emphasis on should. They know the feeling, their nodding heads imply.
William McKnight, who emceed Wednesday’s event, said standing up for a Spoken Word reading is akin to “180 minutes of terror.” There are a few rules to follow. For one, there is no clapping during the performances. To show their appreciation for a turn of phrase or masterful pacing, the audience is told to snap. The effect is a muffled version of applause that doesn’t interrupt the poet at work.
And there are rules for the poets, namely, not to ramble on.
The time limit is three minutes a piece, a standard for spoken word competitions.
The group plans to hold the event once a month at lunch, as a way of supporting each other in their writing and gaining the experience of performing in front of an audience.
He wants the community to know there are talented writers, toiling away at their craft on the sides of their school desks. Some of them are already published authors, others are just testing the waters. But anyone who appreciates spoken word and poetry are welcome in the group, he says.
McKnight is hoping they can draw out bigger audiences and more poets.
“We tend to think that nothing ever happens here,” McKnight says. “But there are students here doing something great.”