Poetry found me in print; that exclusively was how I absorbed it for a long time. After years between the pages, a world of spoken word was introduced to me when I realized how much poetry was on YouTube. I encourage everyone to look up videos from Button Poetry. Just watch. Watch for a whole afternoon if you can. I promise you will not be disappointed. Listening is a completely different experience; there’s more emotion present. Poetry lives best this way.
I truly think a poem, like a play, like a speech, like a song, is meant to be heard. It’s meant to go through the ears, straight to the heart. My first live poetry event was, of course, the eternal queen, Rupi Kaur. This post will be a love letter to Rupi and to her words. It will be a short, but over-the-top expression of gratitude.
Reader, I love her.
Rupi came on stage and, right away, started an open, genuine conversation. She asked us to not only snap our appreciation, like you see in the movies in a quiet, smoky room, but to shout, stomp and clap if the mood struck. As an audience, we were to talk with her as best we could across the divide between stage and seats, to try to meet halfway across this barrier. The rhythm of the evening was perfect: Story, poem, story, poem; this is why I wrote the poem, then here’s the poem. We listened to this cadence on a two-hour loop that I wish could have been endless.
Throughout the event, people did shout like she’d asked and, from her rose-covered platform, Rupi shouted back. Shouting was fairly constant, but the clapping almost never ceased. After one poem in particular, an audience member clapped for so long, the building erupted in laughter. Rupi joked that this person should follow her to all readings clapping like that.
There were lots more laughs between and after poems, at her stories of friends, lovers and having small boobs. Murmurs of deep understanding could be heard during poems and stories of depression and mental illness, about how hard it can be to feel happy. How friends have a difficult time offering the right words. There were times of compete silence during stories about being the child of immigrants. About hating the foreign food aisle. Feeling pushed into the narrow row of a grocery store instead of welcomed into a whole country. There was a unique, pressing silence you could feel during a story of the current refugee crisis and mention of the now-famous photo of a small boy dead on the shore. I could feel the many tears falling during the poem that followed.
Clapping and laughing were the norm, sure. It’s so easy to feel connected and live in the collective pulse when you are part of, and surrounded by, thunderous applause. Easier still to feel connected to a whole room when you’re not the only one shouting, “YES QUEEN!” after every line of a poem. Strength often comes in the form of shared voices. The room was still much less than it was rowdy; but even then, the silence resonated with this communal electricity.
There’s a special kind of charge in silence, though. In the moment when not a single person is on their phone or talking or shifting. In these moments, I was so tuned into Rupi’s words, her swaying and soft voice, that the edges of my vision blurred. I had a single focus. Even with tunnel vision, I could feel everyone else’s focus on her, as well. That’s the power of words, of poetry, of a genuine performance.
It’s difficult to really say more. I was so focused on my experience in those exact moments that I didn’t get to write anything down, make notes or take more than two pictures. I remember clapping. I remember laughing. I remember crying and shouting and turning to my friends with sunshine coming out of my face. I remember details like Rupi’s family photos and sketches projected on the screen behind her. I recall music in the background. All these vague details are etched in my mind.
The feeling of that night is what remains fully intact, even weeks later.
After such an amazing event, I can’t wait to go to more readings. I also don’t know if I want to go back to simply reading poetry right away. Of course, Rupi is still in my life and I could always reread the books if I need a poetry fix—written poetry being, of course, better than no poetry at all. But the feeling. The emotional weight of this evening cannot be recreated. It was better to hear her read than it ever will be for me to read again. That’s not a testament to poor writing or books being ineffectual, though. It’s proof that community and shared experience is what life is about. It’s evidence that we need connection and we need to hear, not just read, gentle, loving words that resonate with us. We need books, we need poetry. But sometimes, we need to get off the couch, out from under the blanket and surround ourselves with the beating hearts of people longing for the same things we are—longing to be human.
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