Where the Heart Is.

15 Feb

In conversation with my friend Patrick the other night, he mentioned that griots used to be considered exorcists of a kind – that spoken word is, in some ways, a method of casting out demons. This makes good sense to me: I’ve seen powerful poems summon ghosts or spirits, and I’ve seen poets enter states of trance or possession while reciting or flowing.

In general, being a decent poet means grappling with human history. It means facing it, shouldering it, digesting it and sharing it. Taking on the burden of a species (or a race, a gender, a nationality, a tribe, a family, or an individual) is heavy spiritual lifting. In order to safely lift and carry immense weight, one ought to have some sort of training beforehand. Lack of preparation can lead to devastating damage.

I don’t feel most poets adequately prepare ourselves for the immensity of our burden. I think this is part of the reason so many of us get depressed and vulnerable and sick so often. A poet who only performs once a week hopefully has a lot of time to process and prepare, and probably has a room and a city of her own to regenerate, but road dogs like me sometimes get caught in the slipstream. This is one of the reasons I think being on tour too long for one stretch is begging for trouble. Touring is not the same as vacationing or travelling.

One of my last nights in Oakland, I hit an incredibly low point. I felt drained and lonely. Empty and hungry, sad and angry. Needy. Despairing. Homeless. It was a sort of soul sickness from giving so much and being so open to so many different audiences, and simply not nurturing myself enough.

There are times, though, that the road truly has your back.

I performed at a show at Butte College in Chico the next night, and it absolutely brought me back to all the right reasons I do this. The gig entailed a workshop followed by a slam, followed by a feature. I workshopped a group of folks, mostly kids from the college, on the identity poem, and we did some awesome performance critique as a group. Then I got to show those kids, who’d pretty much had blind faith in me, what was possible when I sacrificed for the slam. The end of the night didn’t leave much time for a feature, but I performed a few poems that left the audience howling for more.

The result? A whole bunch of people came up to me afterwards and said they’d never been to a slam before, and now they wanted to go, and maybe try it out for themselves. A whole bunch of young poets came up to me and told me they were inspired by and in ❤ with me. I impressed the veterans, folks like Tazuo, Sarah Myles Spencer, Foxie Brown, and Kyle Bowen. And I sold a whole lot of books (hey, you can visit the Write Bloody store and buy my book just like they did, which is almost as cool as having been there).

In short, I felt absolutely refreshed, delighted, and validated (a few handsome young men even took their shirts off when I performed “The Body Beautiful”). A great show is an excellent cure for the road-weary, I guess. If we, as poets, act as kind of communal exorcists in the culture at large, it seems we can also draw strength from the power that emanates from a vibrant community.

It’s possible I’ve been playing too many video games.

Anyway, the grind. The job gets me down sometimes, but the good days more than make up for it. I’m grateful for this crazy life. It’s good to be home in Chicago again, and it was good to rediscover home on the road. ❤


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