Kathy Parker On Slam Poetry

Wildings, today we're handing the (figurative) mic to Featured Artist Kathy Parker, to hear her thoughts on spoken word poetry. Over to you, Kathy!

Photo by israel palacio on Unsplash
“Spoken word is my outlet, it’s my means to let my inner self roar so loudly that it rumbles the innards of my audience.” ~ Zohab Zee Khan

With the Australian Poetry Slam competition currently happening here in Australia, I thought I’d share how and why spoken word poetry has become such a huge and important part of my life.

I never planned to become a spoken word performer. Purely by chance, about two years ago, I stumbled across a video of Clementine Von Radics performing Patron Saint of Manic Depressives. Something about that video moved me in a way I couldn’t let go of; watching that performance with tears streaming down my face, heart thumping in my chest, I knew that was what I wanted to do – use my words to connect with a room full of people in such a visceral and tangible and intimate way that would impact them the way Clementine’s performance had impacted me.

A few months later I performed in my first poetry slam. Sick to my stomach with nerves, I was drawn first to perform. I somehow managed to make it through; just. Since then, I’ve performed at open mics, festivals, and have headlined and featured at various poetry events. The stage fright never lessens; I am still sick with nerves before every performance. But my love and passion for spoken word and its community has only grown in the last two years, to the point the majority of poems I write are now spoken word pieces.

Because of this, there is less “on the page” to show for my work these days (or on the website, or on the Instagram etc). Initially this was a struggle for me; to feel I had nothing to show, as such, for the hours of work I was still putting into my writing. It’s easy to get pulled into the trap that comes with social media; the need to produce regular and fresh content to continue to grow our platforms and readership. These days, I’m less concerned with such things, knowing the reverberations of a performance are more important than fleeting content on an internet page that might get a few likes today before it is gone and forgotten tomorrow.

What I love about spoken word is the freedom; to not be inhibited by formal rules or pentameters or the need to be uber-literary. Spoken word is a bit like the “people’s poetry” – the purpose of it to engage and connect with an audience; to share of our universal humanity and draw us closer in toward ourselves, but also enable understanding and empathy of the shoes worn by others.

The other thing I love is the open arms of the spoken word community; that you can be a first time performer and welcome to share the stage alongside a seasoned national finalist. It’s such an all-inclusive, nurturing culture with the added benefit of slams being entirely random and unpredictable in both its performance and outcome due to such a variety of performers.

Just as with written poetry, spoken word poetry is cathartic, healing and empowering. It can be daunting, yes, to stand on stage and share the most intimate parts of your life with a room full of strangers. But it’s also an act of reclamation. It’s a rebellion against the way we have been told to remain small, and silent. On stage, we take up space and disempower the shame of our naked selves that we once bred in isolation and instead we can be loud and fierce and unashamed; we can claim back the voice that has been taken from us and in turn hold space for the audience to do the same.

It isn’t always easy to offer the things we’re sometimes still scared of: our brokenness, failures, ugliness, fragility, the messiest versions of who we have been and often still are. It can be daunting, and terrifying, and sometimes more than we feel able to do. But spoken word isn’t about performing, it’s about telling our stories.

We aren’t set apart by the mic, but drawn together because of it.

In the words of Audre Lorde:

“The speaking will get easier. And you will find you have fallen in love with your own vision, which you may never have realised you had. And you will lose some friends and lovers and realise you don’t miss them. And new ones will find you and cherish you. And at last you’ll know with surpassing certainty that only one thing is more frightening than speaking your truth. And that is not speaking.”

Amen to that.