[dropcap letter=”L”]ast week, spoken word poets Sarah Kay and Phil Kaye had two poetry events in Manila. It was strange.
Strange because prior to the first event at iAcademy in Makati, I’d only watched them on my laptop—alone, sometimes two people, tops. To share it with hundreds of people is unnerving. To watch them speak in front of all the claps, the cheers, the intermittent applauds, is new.
Alienating at first, yes, but I got the feeling that a lot of people in that room probably felt the same way: nervous, bewildered. But the moment these two poets took the stage, everything starting to feel calm. Suddenly I was alone on my room, at night, while the bloodthirsty world I live in continue to spin.
Here are 8 love lessons taken from the event; 8 reasons why spoken word poetry (or heck, just poetry) will help you become a good, loving human being, because God knows we need more of them.
If you don’t have an idea what spoken word is, or who these two people are, this review will also define and introduce them along the way. The videos are a huge part of this list, so it is recommended that you watch them while reading.
There are some things you just couldn’t learn in New York City.
Sarah Kay is a poet who grew up in New York City. In this poem entitled “Montauk”—the first one that she performed in their first Manila show—she talked about growing up in the city and the things she did on her trips to its easternmost state: learning how to bike, swim, and drive. Learning how to kiss a boy. Love her parents.
There are some things you cannot learn in New York City. There are places where fishing nets do not mean stockings, where the learning happens in between moments, like after a wave passes, and you break the surface gasping for air.
My grandfather was not a strong man, but he knew what it means to build.
For the Manila shows, Sarah and Phil, who, despite the similarities of their surnames are not related (more on this later), did alternate solo performances. For his second poem, Phil performed “Surplus,” which is about his grandfather who set up surplus store in the US after the war. Here, he talks about how his grandfather lived by building, and how he was taught how to do the same.
They told me that I was meant for the cleaner life. That you would drag me through the mud.
This is one of Sarah Kay’s shorter (and arguably lighter) poems. “Toothbrush to the bicycle tire” is a part of her series of love poems between inanimate objects. Here, the toothbrush tells how to face the grime, even though many refuse to agree. Forbidden love has got nothing on an oral hygiene tool in love.
But instead, we merely co-existed
almost met but always missed it
Sarah and Phil are not related—they’re neither brother and sister nor married. This poem tells how fate brought the two of them together, and gives us the reason why they do what they do–Project V.O.I.C.E, a team of writers/performers/educators who teach and perform poetry all over the world–from packed auditoriums to small bars, from middle school to universities.
When I am inside writing,
all I can think about is how I should be outside living.
When I am outside living,
all I can do is notice all there is to write about.
Sarah Kay performed “The Paradox” (there is no video performance of this online, but you can read it in her book “No Matter the Wreckage” or here), a poem of gratitude despite everyday restlessness and indecision.
Before their last argument they sent me off to the neighbor’s house, like some astronaut jettisoned from the shuttle.
When I came back there was no gravity in our home, beds floating
I imagined it as an accident, that when I left
They whispered to each other “I love you” so many times over that they forgot what it meant
Family, family, family, family, family, family
Arguably one of Phil Kaye’s best poems, this one has all the right tools needed for an effective, engaging, and utterly beautiful spoken word poetry. Here he is once again talking about family, something that, like him, stammered. And ultimately healed.
And “Baby,” I’ll tell her, “don’t keep your nose up in the air like that, I know that trick, you’re just smelling for smoke so you can follow the trail back to a burning house so you can find the boy who lost everything in the fire to see if you can save him.
Or else, find the boy who lit the fire in the first place to see if you can change him.
This poem–entitled “B”–was popularized by one of Sarah Kay’s TED Talk, which now has over seven million views. It’s commonly known as “If I Should Have a Daughter,” and walks us through the things she would teach her future child. What many of the listeners may not instantly realize is that she’s actually talking to us, grownups, too.
Maybe love is there for every firework, every birthday party, every hospital visit
Maybe love stays
Maybe love can’t
Maybe love shouldn’t.
“When Love Arrives” is perhaps one of Sarah and Phil Kay/e’s most well-known and beloved poems, and perhaps one of the best ones where you’ll see the great chemistry between them. Like yin and yang, they balance each other out perfectly–the timing is perfect and the delivery inimitable.
It starts out adorably (“I’m going to…Ben’s house”), then suddenly develops into truths that most of us often forget (“Love had songs that reminded him of…someone else”), especially after going through hell, high water, and back.
This event would not have been possible without the efforts of the volunteers and good folks at Words Anonymous, a humble group of Filipino spoken word poets. Learn about what they do here.