Sarah Kay & Phil Kaye: Review of Slam Performance
I’d never heard of Phil Kaye, but I did discover Sarah Kay some weeks before receiving word that she was in Australia touring PROJECT VOICE. Having been taken by the way she translates stories into spoken word and small moments into significance, I instantly booked tickets for myself and a friend. Dumbo Feather (a magazine about productive people) kindly hosted Sarah and Phil, who brought their semi-collaborative show Project Voice to the Malthouse Theatre, Melbourne. The project was founded in 2004 and is an acronym for “Vocal Outreach into Creative Expression” which supports teens, encourages spoken word as a way of self-expression which, they believe is the key in understanding the world and the self. Sarah and Phil employ theatre, storytelling, slam poetry, song and humour in their performances.
I had happened upon Sarah’s work BROTHER and ASTRONAUT but was particularly enamoured by FOREST FIRES. She performed ‘Brother’ but adjusted the story to how old her brother is, current time. I love how she carefully weaves imagery with the same accuracy as you’d hold a conversation. So, it felt like such a blessing to receive that email that one of my best made discoveries was actually going to do a show in my city. My poetry blood-beat hopscotched against skin.
Sarah Kay hails from New York and she was really noticed when TED conference was stunned by her 2011 poems, specifically IF I SHOULD HAVE A DAUGHTER which inspired standing ovations. Of which my favourite line is ‘…but getting the wind knocked out of you is the only way to remind your lungs how much they like the taste of air.’
Phil Kaye of no relation, except funny coincidences, with California roots calls New York home, too. He has been the coordinator of “Space in Prisons or the Arts & Creative Expression (SPACE)” and teaches weekly poetry workshops in maximum security prisons. Both these kids are young & have awards and kudos stapled to their CV that are both astonishing as they are worthy.
We had second row seats, whilst I wasn’t feeling great and couldn’t process things at normal speed, I still felt electric with inspiration and felt that their show had a real sense of interaction and exploration for both performer and audience. Whilst their performances are different according to each audience, YouTube still captures the beauty of expression and how they manipulate it at will. The back story they give before performing really involves the audience in an intricate way.
This is probably best done in Phil’s TEETH. Phil was raised by a Japanese mother and a Jewish-American father (the Jewishness is something Sarah and him share.) His poems are fraught with the history behind both nationalities, strewn with imagery that is heartbreaking and forgiving. The circular imagery of ‘teeth’ is undeniably haunting and it’s probably one of my favourite slam poems for this reason. Other lines I adored were ‘…forgetting is the only gift I wish to give you.’ and also ‘ …there are nights I am kept awake by the birthday songs of children I didn’t let live…’
Of writing poetry, Sarah Kay says: ‘I write poems to figure things out, sometimes the only way I know how to work through something is by writing a poem, and sometimes I get to the end of the poem and look back and go, ‘Oh, that’s what this is all about.’ And sometimes I get to the end of the poem and haven’t solved anything but at least I have a new poem out of it. Spoken word poetry is the art of performance poetry. I tell people it involves creating poetry that just doesn’t want to sit on paper, that something about it demands it be heard out loud or witnessed in person.’
Her TED Talk poem is probably the most felt eighteen something minutes that will make your day, maybe…hopefully. The charity here is yourself. I know it makes my days. I know it changes the way I look at poetry and the way that I approach my own poetry, hands out ready to catch some kind of Sarah Kay spark. Her work teaches me that we all have stories to tell, that our stories are important and they itch to be told. We only scratch the surface when think, but when we write we open up new ‘infusions of you’.
So, what you should take from this is that poetry is still a relevant way to tell a story. I thought this review was a great way to follow up Emily’s post on Emotions in Poetry because emotions come from stories, not the other way round. Poetry is about experience and if you echo that sentiment as well as empathy for the poem, then you go home with a belly full of warmth.
Metre Maid prompt is to write down 10 things that you know, as inspired by Kay’s TED 2011 talk, the lines will help reveal new ways of seeing things. After you’ve written your list, write a poem. You may want to start the poem with directives like ‘Notice’ or ‘See’ or ‘Here’. Good luck!