Whitman Poets Share More Than Words

Varinia Balkins, Staff Reporter

Photo by Carson Jones

Whitman’s poetry club is creating a space to voice the unspoken, consider the impossible and nurture undiscovered possibilities. Friday, October 13, participants opened more than their notebooks as they read their work at the Poems Club’s first open mic of the year. Through tangible anticipation and strong sincerity, poets shared what was on the surface, what hid deep and everything in between.

When asked what makes spoken word special, club member Julia Gratton ‘20 said, “It’s music when you hear it aloud, it’s visual art when you see it on the page, it’s theater when you see it performed. There’s no rules.”

Photo by Carson Jones

It’s true, there were no rules that night. Each poet brought something different; they brought themselves, and in embracing the honesty and clarity of their experiences, invited others to do the same. As a result, Kimball Theater became a place of self-expression, closure, declaration and wonder.

“When I’m first writing a poem, it’s for my own enjoyment or relief, but then, when I decide I want to share it, I get to think about, ‘What can this poem do for other people?’” Gratton said.

Although producing poetry is an introspective experience for many, the thoughtfulness does not end there. Spoken word offers the unique element of interaction with your audience. At the beginning of the performance, club co-president Paige Dempsey ‘18 invited listeners to freely express themselves in response to what they heard and felt. A two-way interaction between presenter and listener then emerged as poets shared their work and audience members voiced, snapped and clapped their support, empathy and solidarity. Poets spoke of difficult topics, and bravely opened doors often left closed and invited others to take a look. A real connection was made when listeners and presenters paused to consider and feel together.

“This is where we want to express ourselves and our experiences and have [it] hold us all together in that space,” Dempsey said. “It’s a real, powerful, important thing for people to be able to do. Sometimes it’s also terrifying.”

At risk of rejection, embarrassment or shame, these poets embrace what is true within themselves. Bravery and vulnerability take on new meaning as these students not only say what is in their hearts and minds, but also paint a picture, creating reality as they experience it and allowing others to enter that space with them. Club member Chris Meabe ’18 spoke to this aspect and of the importance of writing what feels truthful, rather than thinking about the audience.

Photo by Carson Jones

“If I write something for other people to connect to it, it ends up being less true to my experience,” Meabe said.

It seems those who performed agreed. They bore true feelings, insights and reflections from all walks of life. Longing for love, personal insecurities, life changing effects of past trauma, sexual assault, loving with your whole heart, having nine lives and hearing the sounds of space were among some of the experiences shared—all different, all unique and all true to their writers.

“People will connect stronger if it’s true,” Meabe said. “The most incredible experience of my life was when someone told of how they connected with a poem.”

Dempsey added to this shared view.

“It’s fun to listen to people who are saying the thing you’ve been trying to figure out how to say forever, and you’re like, ‘Oh there you go! That’s it! That is it,’” Dempsey said.

It was evident that poets were sharing more than words. They were sharing who they are. It is clear that the club is open and welcoming to all interested in exploring poetry as a means of self-expression. The Poems Club meets Thursday nights at 8 p.m. at the Writing House.

Meabe assures, “You can write literally anything.”