What is most important to me must be spoken, made verbal and shared, even at the risk of having it bruised and misunderstood…the speaking profits me, beyond any other effect.
About two or so years ago, I wrote my first spoken word. I had a rough winter break at home, things from my childhood came up, and I was angry. I had all this mess in my head and felt overwhelmed. I started writing. Then I knew I needed to say it out loud. I needed it to be out in the open for people to hear, not just read. Hearing my words from my mouth, allowing others to hear the pain in my voice makes it real to me.
See, words are powerful. We listen to words that scream at us, challenge us, and also the words affirm us. As humans, we listen to others’ stories. That quote from Audre Lorde sums up my feelings towards poetry. Lorde would also say that poetry and protest are inseparable. It is a way to challenge the inconsistencies in our lives in a beautiful, creative way.
So I’m going to highlight a few poets who are engaging activism in their art and doing it well.
Raised in Long Beach, California, Bournes poems promote justice for all. He writes music as well and also speaks and teaches on creative writing, justice, and his faith. Is Justice Worth It? is a piece challenging those who question the fight for justice; challenging those who ask ‘how will we ever solve all of the injustices of this world.’ Another piece worth checking out is, Human Persons, a piece that states justice is for all humans, that we must treat each other as fellow humans, ya know this guy loves speaking to justice and it’s importance (the good stuff).
Sarah Kay is one of my favorites. She is one of the first woman spoken word artists that showed me a different kind of style to the art. That it can be passionate without yelling, that it’s an art anyone can do. From New York, she is co-director of Project VOICE, which is a spoken word workshop that works with students in the classroom to empower, improve literacy, and encourage empathy and collaboration in our schools. She’s been on Def Jam Poetry and was the youngest competitor in the National Poetry Slam. The pieces you should check out: If I should have a daughter (featured on her TED Talk), Private Parts, and The Type.
Jozer Guerrero is a Denver-based spoken word artist who challenges racism and cultural appropriation through his lived experiences. He uses his Mexican heritage and upbringing all throughout his pieces. One of my favorites is Frats, which calls out racist themed parties and halloween costumes. Another to check out is Whoopings.
DarkMatter calls themselves a “non-binary trans south asian performance art duo.” The duet is made up of Alok Vaid-Menon and Janani Balasubramanian. They are quirky and political, challenging the gender binary and injustice in a fun and creative way. They are fellow students from Stratford University and are based in New York. They use their own lived experiences and emotional journeys as well as challenging the perpetuation of privilege and oppression within activism. Check these out: White Fetish, It Gets Bougie (critique of racism and classism in LGBTQ movement), and OkCupid.
Poetry is something that can challenge, break down barriers, and explain injustice/privilege/everything-else-fucked-up-in-this-world in a creative, passionate, powerful, funny, and inspirational way. Another plus, anyone can do it. Anyone can write. Start with your own experiences, start from a place that pisses you off, or start from a place that confuses you and challenge why it confuses you. Watch other poets (like the ones listed above) for inspiration and then find your voice. Words are a powerful thing and they can produce change.