Sarah Kay says that listening is the better part of speaking. She’s a spoken word poet in her twenties who is inspiring teenagers around the world — with the way she uses words:
“I like words, I love strange words, I love words that mean exactly what I need them to mean, and the word flux, when I found that word, I loved the way it was fluffy but it was sharp, it was just everything that I wanted and also, my life is just eternally in flux and just has been and probably always will be.”
Sarah Kay says her job description is rediscovering wonder, and rediscovering how language and listening make impossible connections between people.
Real time is true;
redundancy that’s happening now.
Remember those swaths of time between high holy seasons:
Nothing dramatic is happening;
this is where we’re living.
Doing What You Love and Loving What You Do
During the course of a week, I read so many lovely letters and responses to our public radio program. Oftentimes people extend a simple “thank you” or a humble “this show caught me at the perfect time.” But, we also receive more devoted notes from folks who offer a piece of themselves.
Gary James, a bartender who was born and raised in Jamaica, sent us this lovely essay in response to our interview with poet Christian Wiman:
“I was on the job today getting upset at all that has to be done and trying to find a good station on the radio. Being frustrated with the numerous commercials, I switched to NPR radio where I heard the subject of poetry being discussed.
It got my immediate attention, because I have missed poetry in more ways than I care to admit. I have tried a lot of other ways to generate my inner thoughts in order to inspire myself but, in most cases, I failed miserably. Staying away from poetry was something I did deliberately because I got frustrated with the competitive nature that the genre seems to take on when too many poets are gathered in one room.
But something hit me today here on the job. I guess you could say that my creative juices were flowing. A title came to my mind which read, “Doing What You Love and Loving What You Do.”
The title seems to sum up how I was feeling and it led me to think back on my days of intense writing. I had to ask myself a question, “Do you love writing?” Of course the answer was a resounding yes!
Then the next obvious questions would be, “What is it about writing that I love so much?” I found the answer to not be as obvious as I thought it would be. Poetry has always been my escape.
It came very natural for me and there are those who say when it comes that easy it is not you who manifests the talent but rather it is a gift that is given to you. I have heard stories where people said that they were many gifted people who did not take advantage of their gift and end up losing it. I guess that statement was always in the back of my mind, which I believe held me back somewhat.
Sometimes it takes being away from something to truly appreciate its value, and I am finding this truth to be very pronounced at this point in my life.
As I have stated above that my reason for not getting deeper into poetry was because of the competition. Now that I think about it, that statement may not be entirely true. I have to bear some of the blame. Every artist wants to be recognized for his work, and I am no different. But in trying to please everyone else, I have gone away from the very thing that I truly love.
I miss what this art form meant to me, how the words would magically appear in my head, how I would force myself to come up with the next rhyme, not wanting to move onto the next sentence until the present line matches the previous.
I blame myself for allowing my mind to be distracted from what was important and what gave me the most joy. Writing gives me the power to open closets that I have no business opening. It allows me to tell the stories that were not meant to be heard, and it provides me the ability to do this in a creative way. For that, I am very grateful.
With all this in mind, I have answered my own question, which is to get back to what I love, because that is where true happiness lives.”
This note makes it all worth the doing.
This interview with poet Christian Wiman has to be one of my top 10 favorite shows. He cuts to the quick with a generosity and truthfulness rarely heard. And his penchant for remembering poetry and weaving it into life experiences with cancer, love, and death is incredible.
I adore these closing stanzas from this poem by Marie Howe:
For months I dreamt of knucklebones and roots,
the slabs of sidewalk pushed up like crooked teeth by what grew underneath.
The underneath —that was the first devil.
It was always with me.
And that I didn’t think you — if I told you — would understand any of this —
She is one of those all-too-rare poets who can read her work with a fluidity and a clarity that doesn’t sound forced. It was such an honor to edit and produce this interview with her for On Being.
An enchanting hour of poetry drawing on the ways family and religion shape our lives. Marie Howe, poet laureate of New York State, works and plays with her Catholic upbringing, the universal drama of family, and the ordinary time that sustains us. The moral life, she says, is lived out in what we say as much as what we do — and so words have a power to save us.
I am done with apologies. If contrariness is my
inheritance and destiny, so be it. If it is my mission
to go in at exits and come out at entrances, so be it.
I have planted by the stars in defiance of the experts,
and tilled somewhat by incantation and by singing,
and reaped, as I knew, by luck and Heaven’s favor,
in spite of the best advice. If I have been caught
so often laughing at funerals, that was because
I knew the dead were already slipping away,
preparing a comeback, and can I help it?
And if at weddings I have gritted and gnashed
my teeth, it was because I knew where the bridegroom
had sunk his manhood, and knew it would not
be resurrected by a piece of cake. ‘Dance,’ they told me,
and I stood still, and while they stood
quiet in line at the gate of the Kingdom, I danced.
‘Pray,’ they said, and I laughed, covering myself
in the earth’s brightnesses, and then stole off gray
into the midst of a revel, and prayed like an orphan.
When they said, ‘I know my Redeemer liveth,’
I told them, ‘He’s dead.’ And when they told me
‘God is dead,’ I answered, ‘He goes fishing ever day
in the Kentucky River. I see Him often.’
When they asked me would I like to contribute
I said no, and when they had collected
more than they needed, I gave them as much as I had.
When they asked me to join them I wouldn’t,
and then went off by myself and did more
than they would have asked. ‘Well, then,’ they said
‘go and organize the International Brotherhood
of Contraries,’ and I said, ‘Did you finish killing
everybody who was against peace?’ So be it.
Going against men, I have heard at times a deep harmony
thrumming in the mixture, and when they ask me what
I say I don’t know. It is not the only or the easiest
way to come to the truth. It is one way.
You’re likely to outlive some of your greatest joys. Don’t let that be the only period in your life when you become highly aware of them. Notice joy now and it will help you become a person of peace, integrity, and strength when there is less joy in your life.
His note, dawn’s foil —
One blow to fill her pale blue bell with sound,
One impulse to deliver; that serves to sever bonds
Of all things that entangle, sully, soil.
This is the Word that blasts the sap,
The sound of force
That lifts the arms of trees;
That fashions-forth the branches from within
To raise this world of darkwood iron all around;
This the rising sound
Of the very juice by which the ground toils,
Becomes each massive trunk and slender tendril coil
Upright, upreared, at prayer.
Bright above, the morning sky awakens,
She blues and beckons like a mother’s eye toward which
The sun climbs, wings beat a path, while feet
With new-found ease
Like light along the spangled grass self-hurl,
Fast follow down that one windfall trail
Being blazed toward Canaan by what lives.
Let this day go gray, grow disenchanted:
I know the crow.
Text and poem excerpted from “On Being More Than Ourselves Alone.” Read more of Paul Martin’s complete essay.