When getting ready for a slam, no set list is needed. At least not for the performers who will be at IRT later this month.
Januarie York, Adam Henze, Gabrielle Patterson, Tony Styxx, Alexandria Hollett and Too Black will all be featured that night. But after speaking with a few of them about the first time they performed, their writing, and growth as artists, it's clear that they are all at home on stage and see each other as friends and family more than competition. To get ready for the set, York has been writing through topics ranging from molestation, to violence in the inner city. We spoke with her about her writing, and how poetry has kept her alive for the last 13 years.
NUVO: How has your style changed and flourished?
Januarie York: For one, I never started performing with the intent to do anything other than just get that voice out and speak my piece. I felt like I was going a little crazy holding everything in. When I first started I was in an abusive relationship, so when I first started everything kind of centered around that relationship: relationships with my father and step-father. In the last 11 or 12 years I have, well, for one, I write about love a lot, but I have grown into appreciating the fact that I write about love. It used to be a really big deal to me, I hated that love was my go-to thing. It felt cliché and I would be like, "Gee can I write about anything else? Can I write about the grass being green outside?" Anything would always turn into love. I have learned to appreciate that's just part of me, that's just who I am, and is a part of my writing. There is nothing wrong with that. I think I have grown into expanding my voice on the paper outside of poetry ... I have grown into who I am as a whole woman, as opposed to writing with the hopes that somebody would hear it and stand up and give me an applause.
NUVO: What kind of topics have you evolved through? What was it that changed your mind about love as a primary topic?
York: I think I wrote a poem a few years ago — I think it was 2013 — I wrote a poem about love. It is literally a whole description of love, of what I think love is, my perception of love. I fell in love with that piece ... I still love it today like I loved it when I first wrote it. I think that was my turning point, when I stepped outside of my regular love writings, — regularly they would be bad love, or corrupted love, or how love should be ... It seemed like I was always writing about love, but dancing around the topic. I think that brought a different perspective to myself. When I heard my voice saying it after I got it memorized, I could hear myself speaking these words to love. It was an epiphany.
NUVO: How did poetry connect with you during that abusive relationship?
York: I wrote so much poetry. I kept journals back then and would write in my journal as a form of relief. The first time I performed that was it: I had to do that every single week after that for the next year ... I was at that open mic every single week to go and perform. That was my outlet ... At the time I didn't realize it, but I was empowering myself by getting on that mic every week. Because the poems I was writing were freshly from everything I was going through, having the opportunity to get in front of people and say, "Oh my god, this is what I am going through" and have them listen to it [helped] ... There was a big part of my fire that was gone, there was a lack of voice. My voice was literally stuffed inside of me in a lock box that was thrown away. Going to the mic — going to The Cozy every week — when I look back, this probably sounds cliché, but when I look back, it's crazy to me that I am the same person. I am the same girl that as the one in 2003. It is hard for me to believe that. [I started to see that] number one you don't have to be quiet, number two you don't have to go through this, and number three you are not the only person ... it saved my whole life. I honestly don't know where I would be if I had not started performing poetry. I honestly think I would be dead.
NUVO: What do you see as the primary difference between a strong written piece and a strong performance piece? At least in your own work.
York: For me when I write my spoken word, when I read through it and am writing, I am imagining that I am on the stage performing this in front of a million people ... When someone is giving you spoken word they are giving you the emotions, the voices, the accent, they might turn around literally. There is so much that goes into the creation of a spoken word poem. On the flipside of that there is just as much that goes into literary, but literary is toned down. On a noise level spoken word would be at a 10 and literary would be at a 1. That isn't me judging one or the other ... Literary is quieter, softer, it needs to look fluid on the page. The reader should be able to interpret what the writer is saying verbatim or the reader should be able to interpret the poem in a way that resonates with them. Spoken word gives you what you are supposed to feel.
(Editor's Note: This article was graciously boosted on social media by The Warehouse [www.liveforthemusic.com]. The Warehouse had no input on the content in this article or the decision to create it.)