Putting Down Roots

March 12, 2011, 1:02 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

Last night I got to go to “Black on Black Rhyme,” a weekly showing of performance poetry in Tallahasee. It’s only my second time there, but it’s one of my favorite things in this city: a group of folks getting up on stage and remaking the world with their words. It leaves me feeling much heavier and much lighter than when I came.

What I love about performance poetry is the urgency to it. Poetry on the page will sit there until you read it, it’s been written with carefully placed line breaks and stanzas. There are whole theories and books and classes about what it means to end a line of poetry at the end of a sentence or in the middle of it. I’ve had passionate discussions about such things several times.

Performance poetry is also painstakingly crafted, but it’s a whole different thing, because from the very beginning it’s meant to be said out loud. When I write poems that I know I’m going to be performing, I’m always by myself in a room because I have to try each line out with my voice before I write it down; page poetry is often a quieter process. When you speak something into a room full of people, you have the huge gift and terror of getting to see the reaction of the listeners. You get to see the heads nodding and the eyes following you, you get to hear the throaty “uh huh”s when you say something they like. And when it’s not reaching them, you get to see the blank stares.

Sitting in that room–in which I was one of just a handful of white folks, totally concious of my race and the way it set me apart from the performers and the other audience members in a racially charged space–I was basking in the power of all of those poets using words to change things. I was reminded of why I feel an urgency to write.

Earlier that day, I had been in Borders Bookstore, browsing the poetry section, when I remembered a poet who I had seen perform about 3 years ago. I could half-remember the title of a book I had owned and loaned out, and could call to mind just a few characteristics. Her name totally escaped me. I called my friend Arhm and left a message which she managed to decipher. She called back later: the poet’s name was Patricia Smith.

The only time I heard this woman read, she did this poem, which has stuck with me. It will shake you up. It has a million lessons to teach us about the power of telling stories that need to be told. Listen to it. The whole thing.


2 Comments so far
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Comment by Leah

Leah! You’re so good to me. Thanks for passing this along.

Comment by magpieoflove

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