In August 2014 I hauled myself out to Oakland on a whim and a spare dime to see National Poetry Slam. It was astonishing. I hadn't been so inspired in years. I felt for the first time that I found a place I belonged. People talking to themselves and gesticulating, faces contorted into the practice performance's total emotional content, friendly faces who had all worked their asses off to get where they were at that moment. Shows and competitions and so many poems. I cried a thundercloud's worth of tears, I laughed and met so many stellar people. I had the best time and came back to KC completely determined to make our city's team.
I wrote wrote wrote, memorized, practiced practiced practiced and made the team. Then I was sent on behalf of our team to Albuquerque to compete in Women of the World Poetry Slam, my first national stage. I was beyond excited and prepared. But, I immediately saw that my poetry was ... different ... from most of the rest of what was being performed. The event's feel was very much a beautiful, healing, safe space for the expression of life's unfairness and pain. The poets felt like healers, I imagined them as nurse and wounded cleaning and sewing each other up from the battles of life.
That is not my poetry. I am a covered in blood, battle axe wielding warrior poet. My poems are sarcastic, bombastic, accusatory, snide and unapologetic. My performances are over the top, my voice is big and my movements are bigger. I am a walking trigger warning. I am not preaching to the choir, I'm setting the church on fire.
My first WoWps poem is a boxing metaphor with a message of toughen up called "The Idea Is." I had to get up and recite this poem after a woman did a poem about surviving domestic violence. I was horrified with the idea of following her. I have survived a husband's violence. That's not what I meant by my boxing metaphor, I'm thinking Rocky and I'm mortified that my poem might be taken as marginalizing abuse. I still did the poem.
Round two is for 4 minute poem. I do my rape poem, Breadbox. I've been sexually abused. I've struggled with this my whole life. Thank you Melanie, for being the first person I told. Thank you Andy, for telling me to confront my abuser, an act which changed my life. Thank you Dr. Kennedy for telling my mother and having social services force him out of our house. What lingers most, these many years later is that that man was never held responsible. So my rape poem is not about the incident, it's about the stifling rage that he was let go free. It's knowing that he married another woman with a pre-teen in the house. It's knowing he probably did it to that child, too.
It's a horrifying poem. I'm horrified. I'm crying as I type this. I don't want to live in a world that needs this poem. It's true no cousin/sibling babies died in my family of sexual abuse, it's true that I feel an intimate kinship with every person who has suffered sexual abuse. I hate reciting this poem. I won't stop reciting this poem until it's true that rapists don't go free anymore.
I watched people walk out on my poem. Important people. My gut twisted. There was little applause. There shouldn't be.
I don't write poems that make you want to clap or holler. They don't end on an I survived note, they end on a pointed finger.
The next day was the second bout. I began with my White Guilt poem. It's sort of a joke among my friends that when I get too drunk I start in with the crying about how the blood of my ancestors is the blood of imperialists and rapists. How the legacy of white culture is so much FUCKING OVER of everything else, people, earth, everything. I finally wrote that poem. It's directed to the white community and it's mean, it's also true. I'm totally filled with rage, vile, sickened, overwhelmed, I want to lash out at my own. I want them to open their eyes and take responsibility.
I want change.
At the very start of the poem, I saw the MC of the bout turn and stare daggers at me. Her glare was exactly how I felt my lineage should be seen. I hoped she would listen to the whole poem, listen to how I'm holding the white community responsible, or how I'm trying to provoke them. I know she did not. I could tell many people did not. It was a chilly room walking off that stage.
I knew I was going to have to get up and do my feminist poem next, the chorus of which is GET FUCKED. I'm literally sick to my stomach. None of this WoWps experience has mirrored how I felt at Nationals.
There is this thing in the poetry world where the MC has everyone clap all the way to the stage. They keep the audience clapping for the poet. When I was called to do my final poem, the MC didn't encourage this, the audience barely clapped. I walked the long walk in silence to do what is easily my most bombastic poem. My heart faltered. I knew my impact was already not what my intention had been. And now I have to yell get fucked a bunch on stage.
So I did. It was definitely the worst performance I'd ever done of that poem, but I got through it. The scores were fine but the feel was fucked. I left the stage and took my guts with me. I was fallen apart. I knew that how I had presented my ideas had failed. That my intent was fundamentally not understood.
I am absolutely deliberately trying to trigger people, I believe in exposure therapy. I believe we should be uncomfortable in the world and face what makes us feel that way. I use inflammatory language to do that. I definitely pantomime sex acts in some of my poems as part of the performance. I've faced disdain over many of my performances, and had many interesting and enlightening conversations about the ideas and approach. I'm still friends with those people and we still work together.
I believe this is how real change happens in the world. I am fucking pissed. I want to rage and I want to be violently destructive.
Instead I write poetry.