From Snails to Slam Poetry — A Journey of Words

Not everybody loves poetry. I learned this the hard way when I was about 10 years old presenting, what I believed to be, one of my greatest masterpieces — The Snail That Got Squashed

Not everybody loves poetry. I learned this the hard way when I was about 10 years old presenting, what I believed to be, one of my greatest masterpieces — The Snail That Got Squashed. I believed that anyone with half an understanding of the creative process would have quickly realized it was a complex analysis of the profoundness of meeting death. The first taste of seeing, or rather experiencing, how a lifeless thing would create a pit in your stomach and change you forever. I suppose I was a little pretentious, even then, but I loved snails you see. I wrote about them a lot.

All creatures held a sort of fascination for me — maybe because in some ways I felt like a creature myself. However, whenever we had creative writing in our cramped, noisy English class, I’d always be subject to running commentary before I could even get a word out. One of the girls said something to me that set me on a relatively dark path in my work forever: “I bet it’s going to be about bugs or death or blood, or something?” Good work, Michelle, very astute observation.

And so it was that Michelle’s prophecy came to pass, but as I grew older I learned I was not alone. In-between books and stories, I found rap music — the likes of Tupac, Dead Prez and even early Snoop Dogg, before he became the weirdly comedic stereotype we know today. While a white girl from the suburbs couldn’t relate to the gang violence I heard about, I could certainly find universal themes that struck a chord. The sense of alienation that so many people rapped about, the anger, the displacement, the desires that came through — and even the moments of vulnerability (hear Tupac’s Dear Mamma and Changes).

As I got older I found solace in listening to the captivating deliveries of pain by young poets during a time when the “slam scene” was absolutely massive (particularly in the 90s and early 2000s — the late 90s for me). More recently I’ve taken to “Button” poets like Desiree Dallagiacomo and Ebony Stewart who cover a number of issues from self-acceptance, to insanity, and who provide poignant social commentary, with feeling, every time they deliver it. There is something comforting and yet extremely uncomfortable in this for everyone, I feel.

However, back then, it seemed as though people had found creative ways to speak out about the atrocities they faced daily but it was hard to tell if anyone was really listening. I was young enough to lack context but I became fascinated anyway. My personal revolution was taking place through discovering my favourite poets and rappers and emulating their passionate deliveries in the safety of my bedroom, or quietly on the train, while an entirely different revolution was taking place across the world. Slowly, their words were helping social movements to gain momentum — outside of affecting little girls who liked to write about snails.

In the next part of this series, I’ll tackle spoken word as a social and revolutionary tool but for right now, let’s take in the words of Pages Matam, who explores rap culture in his emotional masterpiece Pinata. Disclaimer: This video may contain sensitive subject matter.

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