Discovering Spoken Word Poetry

YouTube is like Wikipedia: you go in for one specific thing, and you come out hours later with eighty tabs open, trying to figure out how you got from babies eating limes to a simulation of the Mars rover landing to explanations on why the U.S. penny needs to die.

On one such foray, I discovered spoken word poetry—specifically the work of Sarah Kay. If you haven’t encountered spoken word poetry before, take a couple minutes and experience it. This first video is from Kay’s TEDTalk, where she performs two poems and explains why spoken word poetry is a fascinating and powerful art form. The second video is a single poem by Kay, and the third video is a collaboration between her and Phil Kaye:

From “If I Should Have a Daughter…”

And she’s gonna learn that this life will hit you hard in the face—
wait for you to get back up just so it can kick you in the stomach.
But getting the wind knocked out of you
is the only way to remind your lungs how much they like the taste of air.

From “Hiroshima”

My knees still buckle every time I get on a stage.
My self-confidence can be measured out in teaspoons,
mixed into my poetry, and it still always tastes funny in my mouth.
But in Hiroshima, some people were wiped clean away,
leaving only a wristwatch or a diary page.
So no matter that I have inhibitions to fill all my pockets, I keep trying,
hoping that one day I’ll write a poem I can be proud
to let sit in a museum exhibit as the only proof I existed.

From “Postcards”

Still now I send letters into space, hoping that some mailman somewhere
will track you down and recognize you from the descriptions in my poems,
that he will place the stack of them in your hands and tell you,
“There is a girl who still writes you. She doesn’t know how not to.”

From “When Love Arrives”

Love arrives exactly when love is supposed to,
and love leaves exactly when love must.
When love arrives, say “Welcome! Make yourself comfortable.”
If love leaves, ask her to leave the door open behind her,
turn off the music, listen to the quiet whisper,
“Thank you for stopping by.”