The Intimacy of Poetry

I am, by nature, shy. Talking to new acquaintances is difficult, big groups of people scare me, and parties make me more uncomfortable than just about any situation on earth. Even with my friends I can’t help but feel awkward sometimes, unsure of what to say or do, which means that I don’t talk about myself a lot, even around those that I’m closest to.

It strikes me as interesting, then, how comfortable I am with showing so much of myself in my poetry. In the past two years I’ve written and performed poems about my thoughts on love, the dreams I have for my students, my inspirations, and the effect of my parents’ divorce on me, all incredibly personal topics. To make matters even crazier, it’s not as if I perform these poems for just my closest friends; when I take the stage at a slam poetry show, the audience is comprised almost entirely of complete strangers. It’s an incredibly intimate act I’m doing when I perform for others, and other people generally make me uncomfortable. What about slam poetry, then, makes this intimacy with strangers possible for me?

One of the reasons for this is that, in writing or performing spoken word poetry, I get completely caught up in the poem itself.  To perform a slam poem well, I need to be completely inside of the poem, feeling not just the meaning and emotional structure of the poem but also its sound, every dip and roll of the words themselves and the way my voice needs to match the poem's shape. When I’m that focused on the act of performing, there’s no room in my mind for things like embarrassment or the acknowledgement of others. I simply perform.

The other, perhaps more meaningful reason I can perform in public is that I treat slam poetry as my outlet. Speaking to others, while a wonderfully intimate experience, is often difficult for me because it involves continuous interaction, something that I don’t know how to approach. Writing, on the other hand allows me to say what I want to say without worrying about how to carry on social interactions. Spoken word poetry combines the best aspects of both. I know what I want to say and how to say it, and I’m able to speak powerfully about things that are important to me in a way that makes the experience feels powerful and intimate. It’s a powerful and social experience, something I rarely feel comfortable with outside of spoken word. What could be more worth chasing than that?

With Excitement and Optimism,

Alex