Spoken word poets have always amazed me with their ability to both write and perform incredible poetry. They transform words on the page into a moving performance experience, capturing the audience with their tone, volume, gestures, and expressions. Spoken word is also becoming increasingly popular on college campuses, with the creation of college organizations, like the Vassar Wordsmith’s, and national projects, like Project V.O.I.C.E., dedicated to showcasing the work of students and professional performers. If any of you attended Sarah Kay and Phil Kaye’s amazing performance a few months ago, sponsored by the Wordsmith’s, you know just how powerful and emotional spoken word can be. If you’re anything like me, you probably spent a lot of time at that show trying not to cry and then crying, and then going home and watching all of their YouTube videos to relive the experience.
For those of you who know nothing about spoken word (but want to know more), think you don’t like spoken word (but should reconsider), or already love spoken word, here are a few performers you should learn more about:
Yale graduate Marina Keegan was an acclaimed spoken word poet and journalist, whose work poignantly captures the experience and trials of being a college student on the brink of starting a new life. She died tragically in a car accident only a few days after her college graduation, a devastating loss to the Yale community and a generation of young people who had become connected to her work and vision.
Keegan’s works remains as a testament to her amazing talents and clear-eyed perspective. Much of her poetry describes the confusing emotional rollercoaster that is college, from the incredible closeness of a friend group or relationship, to the difficulties of leaving those bonds behind as we try to find a place for ourselves outside of the bubble. In her poem, “Rolling Stones,” for example, Keegan says, “We don’t call our mothers enough”—a thought that has probably passed through most of our minds as we rush from activity to activity. In “Bygone,” she perfectly conveys the simultaneous nostalgia and excitement that comes at the end of senior year, ending with the line, “Do you wanna leave soon? No, I want enough time to be in love with everything.” If you’re a senior on the brink of graduating and haven’t cried enough yet, this poem is guaranteed to open the emotional floodgates.
In addition to her spoken word projects, Keegan was also a respected journalist who wrote for the Yale newspaper and had a guest column for “DealBook” at The New York Times. In one of her most widely read entries, she argued that college students should resist getting jobs in the finance industry after graduation, and should instead look for ways to directly have a positive impact on the world. While at Yale, she had helped organize a protest against financial recruiting on college campuses, called Occupy Morgan Stanley.
A posthumous book of Keegan’s work, titled The Opposite of Loneliness: Essays and Stories, is available on Amazon (I’ve already ordered it). To get more of an idea of just how incredible Marina Keegan was as a writer, performer, and thinker, check out the following links:
Essays (Beware seniors—this one is definitely a tear jerker):
Sarah Kay and Phil Kaye
This dynamic spoken word duo, who met at Brown University, bring their love for poetry and performance to different colleges and venues all over the country. Sarah began performing when she was only 14 years old. She has been featured on the series Russell Simons presents HBO Def Poetry Jam, gave a speech titled “The Rediscovery of Wonder” at the 2011 TED conference, and has performed internationally and at acclaimed venues from Lincoln Center to the United Nations. Phil has twice been the recipient of the National College Poetry Slam award for “Pushing the Art Forward,” given to an individual who is helping transform the art. He is also the former coordinator of Space in Prisons for the Arts and Creative Expression (SPACE), which works to bring poetry and writing workshops to inmates in maximum security prisons.
The two also serve as co-directors of Project V.O.I.C.E. (Vocal Outreach Into Creative Expression), an international movement that encourages young people to use spoken word poetry as a way to explore, understand, and articulate their experiences of their culture, society, and themselves. They work to provide spoken word performances to diverse audiences, especially audiences that may not be familiar with this form. They also conduct workshops that help people learn about spoken word through innovative exercises and critiques. To learn more about Project V.O.I.C.E. and Sarah Kay and Phil Kaye, visit their website here.
In addition to their spoken word projects, both Sarah and Phil have published acclaimed books. Phil’s first book, A Light Bulb Symphony, was published in 2011, and he regularly contributes to CHAOS Magazine. Sarah’s first book, B, is available on Amazon, and has been ranked and the #1 bestselling poetry book on the site. If you love poetry and are already planning your summer reading list, these are some titles to check out.
P.S.: Sarah Kay’s younger brother is currently a senior at Vassar, so you have no excuse not to look at some of her work. “The Type” by is my personal favorite.