This year has been a wild ride for me. Since I started seriously writing in January, I’ve been able to meet so many incredible mentors, community members, and leaders. Along the way, I’ve had the pleasure of being interviewed a couple times for articles – and discovered that I didn’t really quite know how to piece together my experience with poetry. So, I thought I’d just put my answers here and let them live here for a bit.
So, here’s my answer to the question, “How did you get involved with spoken word poetry?”
It was a roundabout, multi-layered experience. I’m a self-taught musician, and I was very involved in songwriting growing up. I even managed a few bands all throughout high school. For me, the beauty of music came from the way the lyrics and melody intertwined, how they came together like puzzle pieces to create an almost-physical impact on a person’s soul. You know, the way your heart races when you feel a really good beat flowing through your body, or how you cry when you hear the sadness laced through a vocalist’s every note? That experience meant a lot to me, especially as I was going through periods of self-discovery and learning how to cope with the ever-changing, brutal-yet-beautiful world around me. I also saw the amazing community that formed around the music built on these experiences, and how music served as a platform for amazing, healing human connections.
Because of this, I initially wanted to go to college for music; however, my parents always had this dream of me becoming a doctor and a healer – so I couldn’t just not try to go for that, especially as the first-born of an immigrant family. I also was so enamoured with this idea of being a healer, of addressing the many different layers that is health, the deeper human experience and the dissonance with that which can cause dis-ease in mental/emotional/physical/spiritual health. When I got to college on the pre-med track, though, I lost touch with my lyrical and musical experiences, focusing instead on getting into medical school. It was a highly competitive environment, and I didn’t realize just how essential that creative outlet was to me until my grandma passed away very unexpectedly in December of 2014. A few years beforehand, I would have promptly picked up my guitar and wrote about my broken experience with her passing. However, I found myself lost and unable to express my emotions, and that terrified me. I’m still processing that experience, and haven’t dared to write about it yet. But because of it, I discovered spoken word poetry. I found myself up late at night, unable to sleep and scouring YouTube for that kind of connection I used to find with music, with lyrics, with live performance. I stumbled across Button Poetry. I found Sarah Kay’s TED Talk. I was brought to tears by people simply being so genuine, by sharing their raw experiences like it’s the first time. In spoken word poetry, all the barriers are taken down; it’s almost like a song without the melody, but infused with the history of literature and oral tradition and clever wordplay and all the elements that, to me, made great lyrics. I got the same physical reaction from hearing a poet’s trembling voice and seeing them deliver lines as if their soul depended on it. I picked up my old songbook and started turning it into poetry. It was then I realized that my grandmother – and myself – would probably be much prouder of me if I started following these creatives pulls that had been tugging at my heart for so long, if I used the gifts that had been hiding underneath all the memorized Physics equations and OChem structures. I called off my MCAT, extended my stay at ASU another year to accommodate a concurrent degree with English, and promptly fought to find this art and community.
Poetry was the first thing that I could completely own and fight for, especially because my family was so thrown-off by my dramatic life change from an aspiring doctor to a full-blown creative. Poetry created a passion within me that connected much more deeply than my past experiences in the healthcare world ever did. I found myself defending poetry at every turn – and I realized it was something that needed to move and breathe in the world. Poetry has the power to bring humanity back into everyday experiences, and give voice to what might be reduced to a fancy headline. It’s education. It’s more than just education. And furthermore, I believe it fills a gap in healing that healthcare misses. So much of medicine is about caring for the patient as a collection of symptoms; it’s hard to then re-connect that to the human experience. I’ve found that healing comes, not just through the poetry itself – the creating or the listening – but also the community that poetry brings. As someone who with a vested interest in mental health, and health in general, I find that this is my place in the world.
Since getting involved with spoken word poetry, I’ve taken the Slam Poetry class at ASU with Professor Heather Maring, which I would highly recommend for a history-based approach to the art and for exposure to the existing literature of spoken word poetry. I regularly run around PHX attending at least one or two poetry events a week. Coincidentally, Phoenix Poetry Slam at Lawn Gnome started up again, and I’ve been attending. I’ve attended the Individual World Poetry Slam. I plan on attending Women of the World in the spring. I’m starting a new poetry series in Tempe with Jake Friedman of Four Chambers and the Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing and Rosemarie Dombrowski of rinky dink press and senior ASU Lecturer as my mentors. I’ve met cornerstones of the PHX Poetry and Slam Community, like Shawnte Orion and The Klute and Joy Young and John Q (and so many more that I couldn’t possibly name them all here). I’ve attended PHX’s first Zine Fest, a haven for poets, run by Wasted Ink Zine Distro. I myself am running a poetry workshop at a local mental health hospital. I’ve met so many incredible poets and advocates – from the US to South Africa to New Zealand – changing their corners of the world. It’s exciting, and it’s an amazing place to be in right now.