Last month, the Spoken Word CAS group had a small performance on the little platform that used to be our morning assembly stage. If you’d been there, you would probably understand what I mean when I say the performance we had last month got me thinking about the emotional investment we put into each piece and how much it takes for us to do that.
K’s piece was intensely emotional – in all honesty when she began to tear up on stage I was a little confused as to whether that was planned or otherwise. It soon became clear that it was the latter. Watching her pour so much of herself out for the audience on stage, watching her be so honest about her feelings and responses to another was rather heartening to say the least. Her pieces lacked the finesse of Sarah Kay’s, Clementine von Radic’s, etc. etc. But then again, don’t all of ours? At the end of the day, Spoken Word Poetry is precisely that – poetry. So on the formal arena there’s always that degree of literary caliber and (dare I say) mastery required of it. Yet, at the same time, Spoken Word was born fundamentally out of a desire to free poetry from the clutches of academia, for it to reach the masses, to show everyone how poetry could still build bridges between strangers, to show everyone how it could be a medium of expression for anyone, to show everyone how poetry and its magic was raw, real and accessible. If I were to split up the components of Spoken Word, I’d suppose it’s a combination of emotional expression/ vulnerability and literary flair. To find a reasonable balance between the two, or to go further and fully accomplish both of the two is difficult, to say the least. And I’m glad that that day, on that stage, I saw members of our little CAS group pushing themselves to reach one or both of those components.
To write is one thing, to dare to put yourself and your emotions out there for a crowd of people to see and here is another thing completely. Perhaps K’s performance that day wasn’t so much Spoken Word in the strictest sense of the genre, as it was a cascading deluge of emotions, but I applaud her for having the courage to go up and do that because taking that step to be fully vulnerable and honest in front of your audience is a difficult and important one, one that I’m not sure if I have taken or intend to take.
Honestly, the only reason why I started really writing again about 2 years back after years of losing contact with words and how to use them was because of a confusing series of events that were anchored about a boy. Ay, the joy of teenage woes. I’m not too sure if writing helped really? But it did make me want to write and it gave me something to write about.
Funny, this made me think of a quote from Pride and Prejudice: (excuse my many Austen references – this will not be the last you see of them)
“Next to being married, a girl likes to be crossed in love a little now and then. It is something to think of, and gives her a sort of distinction among her companions.”
– Mr. Bennett
I can’t quite figure out if Austen says this in jest…? A part of me thinks so but in that case the same part of me must then admonish myself for finding truth in that statement. Nevertheless, some of my … favourite (debatable adjective) pieces are a product of that time. But most haven’t seen the light of day. As with all things, that period of time gradually passed. While the onset of a heap of angst-ridden emotions was what prompted me to really start writing again, its departure did not cause me to stop.
After that I simply moved on to write about other things in my life, childhood memories, family members, fictional characters –things that felt like safe spaces. I soon realised that other than during that short period of time, I’ve always tried to resist writing ‘like a teenager’, tried to resist writing about the topics that ‘only conflicted adolescents write about’. As a teenager, as an adolescent, I think it’s easy to feel like your reactions aren’t valid – that they are merely caricatures of the reality of those emotions. Take love for example – adolescent affection is often treated with some sort of disdain, with that ah-it’s-just-teenagers kind of attitude. Heartbreak in a 16 year old is often judged to pale in comparison to that of an adult. And often when people step up to approach the topic the response is not altogether supportive.
As part of my anthropology IA, I did research on the Slam community in Singapore. While I eventually focused on the main Slam group for the purpose of the IA, I initially began my research by looking at the Under-21 Slam community within Singapore. When I observed a number of the U-21 Slams, I noticed that poets who talked about love, affection, crushes, the like, tended to score lower. Of course there are a number of factors at work here, not just the subject of their writing but also the quality of it, the engagement of their performance etc. but I do believe there is the tendency to penalize someone who was writing about the workings of a young teenage heart. Note that the judges are teenagers themselves.
I honestly don’t know if this is a restriction I’ve imposed upon myself, where the fear of judgment is wholly invented and unnecessary, but I’ve always felt like non-platonic love and the complications that come with it, whether the lead up to it or its aftermath, is a topic I’m not ready to write about, or rather a topic I don’t have the license to write about. Instead, I write around it – I write about the love I have for my family, my sister, my parents, my grandmother. I write about the connections built between strangers on a bus as we all watch and laugh at the unrestrained glee of a babbling toddler. I write about the passions of a jilted fictional character, I write about love by hiding it behind the veil of codes and symbols.
At the end of the day, yes, Spoken Word poetry for me isn’t wholly about just pouring my emotions out to an audience at the bottom of the stage. I think it’s about striking that balance between being emotionally vulnerable and being accessible to those who are listening to you. I think striking a chord with the audience should be more about building that emotional bridge with your words instead of them feeling connected to you because they have seen you cry. I believe there should be a balance between unabashed honesty and delivering your thoughts in a way that is concise yet lyrical.
But seeing a fellow adolescent unashamed of telling the world how she has loved, lost, and grown from it was heartening, strengthening. And that’s ultimately what I love about the Spoken Word group. I love that while we are here to push each other to increase our capacity for writing and expression, we are also here to affirm each others’ thoughts and emotions at each point in time and we are here to learn from each other. We are here to recognize the courage that each member has as it is manifested in a host of different ways and to draw on our collective courage as a group to better what we are capable of.
For this reason, I thank K for her courage and her honesty, for doing what I never would have dared to do. I truly truly hope that as each member continues to go on their way on this Spoken Word journey, we will remember to recognize what it is that is precious about each performance that we witness and each piece that we see created. It is through recognizing and respecting this that I believe we will then each grow in our ability to express and communicate as a team.
To all the Spoken Word CAS lovelies, I’m proud of how far each and every one of you has come and I can’t wait to see where else we are all headed.