Beyond language: spoken word artists inspire
On Saturday, Sept. 17, the Pugh Community Board hosted internationally acclaimed spoken word artists Sarah Kay and Phil Kaye to perform and speak to students on the Hill. The duo launched a national movement which inspires young people through spoken word poetry in a creative campaign called Project V.O.I.C.E. (Vocal Outreach Into Creative Expression). Through perky performances and writing workshops, the troubadour team is reinvigorating the underground art of spoken word poetry into the classrooms and lecture halls of high schools and universities across the country and around the world.
While weekend evenings in Pulver Pavilion usually mean a transition-trail between dining halls and dance parties, the duo’s visit provoked a different vibe, to say the least. Instead of the usual brightly lit building, Pulver was tenderly dimmed, save for the hot spotlights on a bare center stage, and I was pleasantly surprised by the number of students grabbing a seat (which would only increase exponentially as the night played out).
Sarah Kay and Phil Kaye came onto the stage like youthful rock stars, and after a brief introduction, surged into their poetic, magnetic performance of words, song and movement. Expressing their tough rhymes, hilarious impressions and relatable reminisces, Sarah and Phil sang, swung and spit their art in the fast- and slow-brimming flows that gripped every person within earshot and eyesight.
Opening their performance with a poem about poetry and the universe, the duo ended their quick but excruciatingly detailed piece in unison, crying, “Here lies a man’s private poetry—trespassers, welcome.” The audience, overwhelmed by the performers’ raw emotion, unleashed a wild round of applause.
From the start of their show, viewers were entirely seduced, and the performers’ poetic enthusiasm was extremely contagious. Students passing through Pulver, immediately stopped upon hearing and seeing the quick, smooth, spicy flow of poems, and 20 minutes into the performance, chairs from the Spa were joining the Pulver public to watch the pair sensationally gesticulate and spit their craft.
In addition to duet poems, the pair performed individual ones, too. In a solo poem dedicated to her younger (but nonetheless “cooler”) brother, Sarah sang, “Brother, you jaywalked your way out of the womb!” and recalled how “there have never been any seatbelts at [his] side of the car.” In a simultaneously gut-busting and heart-aching poem about losing his virginity, Phil smiled and looked at the audience with his opening line, “I was 11 years old when my father taught me about vaginas.”
In one of their most masterly duet-poems, Sarah and Phil spoke of the radio to comment on the social passiveness of young people today. Sarah began the poem singing a slightly skewed version of “Miss American Pie” as Phil spoke over her singing. The poem then transformed into an enactment of radio-surfing, through a sort of call-and-response between the poets. This consisted of one newscaster voice reporting various hideous events of the world and the other repeating voice saying, “Instead I change the station,” until they finally ‘changed the station’ to “Teach Me How to Dougie.”
At one point, Phil Kaye surprised the audience by coming on stage and randomly saying, “And now, a word from the Geico Gecko.” Spreading his knees and making Spock-like gestures with both hands, Phil embodied—accent and all—the Geico Gecko of television fame. Although it was innately comical in form, Kaye’s enactment had deeper messages about the “quiet loneliness” one feels when “standing in a room full of people you don’t know.”
For the rest of the night, Sarah and Phil would continue to blow every audience member’s mind through their poems of personal memories that were spicy, hysterical, sweet and—most wonderfully—honest.
I had the privilege of attending Kay and Kaye’s writing workshop the next day and was just absolutely refreshed to hear one of their main tokens of advice, their own personal go-to: to simply be yourself—the best poems come from the most honest representations of the poets themselves.
And honest, Kay and Kaye were. In a first-time performance of his poem, “Separation,” Kaye even shed a tear by the end of the horrifyingly relatable, but beautifully voiced, poem about his parents’ separation as a child. I was also incredibly moved and shed a tear at that moment, among many others throughout Kay and Kaye’s performance.
Although they are both Japanese-American and have the same “K” last name, Sarah Kay and Phil Kaye are not related, or married, as they desperately told the audience, “and never will be!” Their worlds met at a Spoken Word Poetry convention at Brown University their freshmen year, and they have been best friends, and partners in poetry, ever since.
You can find out more information about their creative movement at project-voice.net.