Pillbox

Spoken word poet makes her voice heard

Spoken word poet and Project V.O.I.C.E founder Sarah Kay performed for a large crowd in McConomy Auditorium. (credit: Michelle Wan/Junior Photographer) Spoken word poet and Project V.O.I.C.E founder Sarah Kay performed for a large crowd in McConomy Auditorium. (credit: Michelle Wan/Junior Photographer) Spoken word poet and Project V.O.I.C.E founder Sarah Kay performed for a large crowd in McConomy Auditorium. (credit: Michelle Wan/Junior Photographer) Spoken word poet and Project V.O.I.C.E founder Sarah Kay performed for a large crowd in McConomy Auditorium. (credit: Michelle Wan/Junior Photographer) Spoken word poet and Project V.O.I.C.E founder Sarah Kay performed for a large crowd in McConomy Auditorium. (credit: Michelle Wan/Junior Photographer) Spoken word poet and Project V.O.I.C.E founder Sarah Kay performed for a large crowd in McConomy Auditorium. (credit: Michelle Wan/Junior Photographer)

A large crowd gathered in McConomy Auditorium last Tuesday afternoon to listen to spoken word poet and Project V.O.I.C.E. founder Sarah Kay. Kay’s performance of spoken verse rhythmic poetry was both personal and universal, focusing on themes of love, family, and learning.

Taking us on a journey of her own life, she began with her childhood family vacations and her little brother, before diving into first loves, long-distance relationships, mothers, and feminism, ending with a poem dedicated to teachers.

She captured a world of love and lost souls, full of both romantic lust and the cold truth of reality. That said, there was no trace of a Shakespearean imagined reality; rather, there were clear references to the modern world, where planes and phones connect people better than ever. An expert in crafting imagery, Kay created an environment that seemed fluid and full of emotional angst, yet also intricately detailed with specific imagery: “The years have spread us like dandelion seeds,” and “Cell phones that buzz as if it’s your hand.” Her performance was one of well-rehearsed spontaneity, complete with symbolic gestures and dramatic pauses that, rather than coming off as over the top and silly, felt like genuine reflections of her words.

In between poems, Kay caught her breath and became a “real” person again, with anecdotal remarks and stories that complemented her composed poetry. She seemed eager to connect with the crowd, asking questions to feel out her audience and bring up the energy.

Kay also referred to the work she does in addition to being a writer and performer. As founder of Project V.O.I.C.E., Kay works in schools nationally and internationally to teach poetry workshops to elementary and middle school students. She shared a story of using an analogy of pooping to communicate to middle school students that the hardest part about writing poetry is being able to both push through frustrations and be ready when inspiration strikes.

She also referred to the vast range of experiences she’s had even as a young woman in her 20s, from teaching in India to traveling in Nepal. These references added immensely to her work, expanding her sources of inspiration and helping her avoid cliché.

Part poet, part performer, part storyteller, and full comedian, Kay and her ability to bring life to words earned a standing ovation from enthralled Carnegie Mellon students. Her ability to articulate the struggles of growing up, being a woman, and figuring out what love is — offset by her no-fuss humor and attitude — connected with an audience struggling with many of the same issues. Perhaps most importantly, her candid chat with the audience prevented a common pitfall of poetry — the feeling as if the poet is attempting to leave us confused or mesmerized.

Kay’s first collection of poetry will be published in March. To learn more about Sarah Kay and Project V.O.I.C.E., visit kaysarahsera.com.