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Poetry by Sarah Kay

Sarah Kay's TED presentation "If I have a daughter"
by

Marvin A Marcelino

on 5 October 2016

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Transcript of Poetry by Sarah Kay

Sarah Kay If I should have a daughter, instead of "Mom," she's gonna call me "Point B," because that way she knows that no matter what happens, at least she can always find her way to me. "Oh, I know that like the back of my hand." And I'm going to paint solar systems on the backs of her hands so she has to learn the entire universe before she can say, And she's going to learn that this life will hit you hard in the face, wait for you to get back up just so it can kick you in the stomach. But getting the wind knocked out of you is the only way to remind your lungs how much they like the taste of air. There is hurt, here, that cannot be fixed by Band-Aids or poetry. So the first time she realizes that Wonder Woman isn't coming, I'll make sure she knows she doesn't have to wear the cape all by herself because no matter how wide you stretch your fingers, your hands will always be too small to catch all the pain you want to heal. Believe me, I've tried. "And, baby," I'll tell her, don't keep your nose up in the air like that. I know that trick; I've done it a million times. You're just smelling for smoke so you can follow the trail back to a burning house, so you can find the boy who lost everything in the fire to see if you can save him. Or else find the boy who lit the fire in the first place, to see if you can change him." But I know she will anyway, so instead I'll always keep an extra supply of chocolate and rain boots nearby, because there is no heartbreak that chocolate can't fix. Okay, there's a few heartbreaks that chocolate can't fix. But that's what the rain boots are for, because rain will wash away everything, if you let it. I want her to look at the world through the underside of a glass-bottom boat, to look through a microscope at the galaxies that exist on the pinpoint of a human mind, because that's the way my mom taught me. That there'll be days like this. There'll be days like this, my momma said. When you open your hands to catch and wind up with only blisters and bruises; when you step out of the phone booth and try to fly and the very people you want to save are the ones standing on your cape; when your boots will fill with rain, and you'll be up to your knees in disappointment. And those are the very days you have all the more reason to say thank you. Because there's nothing more beautiful than the way the ocean refuses to stop kissing the shoreline, no matter how many times it's sent away. You will put the wind in winsome, lose some. You will put the star in starting over, and over. And no matter how many land mines erupt in a minute, be sure your mind lands on the beauty of this funny place called life. And yes, on a scale from one to over-trusting, I am pretty damn naive. But I want her to know that this world is made out of sugar.
It can crumble so easily, but don't be afraid to stick your tongue out and taste it. "Baby," I'll tell her, "remember, your momma is a worrier, and your poppa is a warrior, and you are the girl with small hands and big eyes who never stops asking for more. And always apologize when you've done something wrong, but don't you ever apologize for the way your eyes refuse to stop shining. " Remember that good things come in threes and so do bad things. And when they finally hand you heartache, when they slip war and hatred under your door and offer you handouts on street-corners of cynicism and defeat, Your voice is small, but don't ever stop singing. you tell them that they really ought to meet your mother. When they bombed Hiroshima, the explosion formed a mini-supernova so every living animal, human or plant that received direct contact with the rays from that sun was instantly turned to ash. When I was born, my mom says I looked around the whole hospital room with a stare that said, "This? I've done this before." She says I have old eyes. When my Grandpa Genji died, I was only five years old, but I took my mom by the hand and told her, "Don't worry, he'll come back as a baby." And yet, for someone who's apparently done this already, I still haven't figured anything out yet. My knees still buckle every time I get on a stage. My self-confidence can be measured out in teaspoons mixed into my poetry, and it still always tastes funny in my mouth. But in Hiroshima, some people were wiped clean away, leaving only a wristwatch or a diary page. So no matter that I have inhibitions to fill all my pockets, I keep trying, hoping that one day I'll write a poem I can be proud to let sit in a museum exhibit as the only proof I existed. My parents named me Sarah, which is a biblical name. In the original story, God told Sarah she could do something impossible and she laughed, because the first Sarah, she didn't know what to do with impossible. And me? Well, neither do I, but I see the impossible every day. There's this piece of wall in Hiroshima that was completely burnt black by the radiation. But on the front step, a person who was sitting there blocked the rays from hitting the stone. The only thing left now is a permanent shadow of positive light. After the A-bomb, specialists said it would take 75 years for the radiation-damaged soil of Hiroshima City to ever grow anything again. But that spring, there were new buds popping up from the earth. When I meet you, in that moment, I'm no longer a part of your future. I start quickly becoming part of your past. But in that instant, I get to share your present. And you, you get to share mine. And that is the greatest present of all. So if you tell me I can do the impossible, I'll probably laugh at you. I don't know if I can change the world yet, because I don't know that much about it -- and I don't know that much about reincarnation either, but if you make me laugh hard enough, sometimes I forget what century I'm in. This isn't my first time here. This isn't my last time here. These aren't the last words I'll share. But just in case, I'm trying my hardest to get it right this time around. Spoken word poetry is the art of performance poetry. I tell people it involves creating poetry that doesn't just want to sit on paper, that something about it demands it be heard out loud or witnessed in person. the number one rule to being cool is to seem unfazed, to never admit that anything scares you or impresses you or excites you. to soak in every ounce of spoken word that I could ...there are plenty of things I have trouble understanding. So 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. despite my fear of ever being looked at for too long, I was fascinated by the idea of spoken word poetry. I felt that my two secret loves, poetry and theatre, had come together, had a baby, a baby I needed to get to know. So I decided to give it a try. that I learned that spoken word poetry didn't have to be indignant, it could be fun or painful or serious or silly. and the poets who performed encouraged me to share my stories as well. Never mind the fact that I was 14 -- they told me, "Write about being 14." So I did and stood amazed every week when these brilliant, grown-up poets laughed with me and groaned their sympathy and clapped and told me, "Hey, I really felt that too." Now I can divide my spoken word journey into three steps. Step one was the moment I said, "I can. I can do this." And that was thanks to a girl in a hoodie. Step two was the moment I said, "I will. I will continue. I love spoken word. I will keep coming back week after week. And step three began when I realized that I didn't have to write poems that were indignant, if that's not what I was. There were things that were specific to me, and the more that I focused on those things, the weirder my poetry got, but the more that it felt like mine. It's not just the adage "write what you know." It's about gathering up all of the knowledge and experience you've collected up to now to help you dive into the things you don't know. I use poetry to help me work through what I don't understand, but I show up to each new poem with a backpack full of everywhere else that I've been. -- this time changing the mission to using spoken word poetry as a way to entertain, educate and inspire. And we saw over and over the way that spoken word poetry cracks open locks. But it turns out sometimes, poetry can be really scary. Now I know that the number one rule to being cool is to seem unfazed, to never admit that anything scares you or impresses you or excites you. Somebody once told me it's like walking through life like this. You protect yourself from all the unexpected miseries or hurt that might show up. But I try to walk through life like this. And yes, that means catching all of those miseries and hurt, but it also means that when beautiful, amazing things just fall out of the sky, I'm ready to catch them. I use spoken word to help my students rediscover wonder, to fight their instincts to be cool and unfazed and, instead, actively pursue being engaged with what goes on around them, so that they can reinterpret and create something from it. It's not that I think that spoken word poetry is the ideal art form. I'm always trying to find the best way to tell each story. I write musicals; I make short films alongside my poems. But I teach spoken word poetry because it's accessible. Not everyone can read music or owns a camera, but everyone can communicate in some way, and everyone has stories that the rest of us can learn from. Plus, spoken word poetry allows for immediate connections. It's not uncommon for people to feel like they're alone or that nobody understands them, but spoken word teaches that if you have the ability to express yourself and the courage to present those stories and opinions, you could be rewarded with a room full of your peers, or your community, who will listen. It's not enough to just teach that you can express yourself. You have to grow and explore and take risks and challenge yourself. And that is step three: infusing the work you're doing with the specific things that make you you, even while those things are always changing. Because step three never ends. But you don't get to start on step three, until you take step one first: I can. I spent a lot of time thinking about the best way to tell this story, and I wondered if the best way was going to be a PowerPoint or a short film -- and where exactly was the beginning or the middle or the end? I always thought that my beginning was at the Bowery Poetry Club, but it's possible that it was much earlier. It's clear that when I was a child, I definitely walked through life like this. I think that we all did. I would like to help others rediscover that wonder -- to want to engage with it, to want to learn, to want to share what they've learned, what they've figured out to be true and what they're still figuring out. Impossible is trying to connect in this world, trying to hold onto others while things are blowing up around you, knowing that while you're speaking, they aren't just waiting for their turn to talk -- they hear you. They feel exactly what you feel at the same time that you feel it. It's what I strive for every time I open my mouth -- that impossible connection. Marvin A Marcelino's Entry to Ideas Matter Contest And what was left of the city soon followed. The long-lasting damage of nuclear radiation caused an entire city and its population to turn into powder. So I'd like to close with this poem. Sarah Kay (play audio and continue the slide
to experience the spoken words) If I Have a Daughter Click play and continue the slide
for the spoken word experience Why poetry?
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