THE POWER OF POETRY By Blythe Baird
The first time I was exposed to spoken word poetry, I was a sophomore in high school. It was a strike of pure luck. My first day back at school after months of intensive rehabilitation for mental and physical health issues, a special event called Writers Week was happening. I sulked into the auditorium with my English class to see the poet who would later become my mentor/camp counselor/big sister, Sierra DeMulder, do spoken word. I was mesmerized by her performance. She had this line addressing anorexia, “Your body is not a temple. Your body is the house you grew up in” that shook my whole world. The past few months, I had completely bullshitted my way through treatment and planned to go back to starving myself the second I was discharged. But hearing that poem influenced me to take recovery seriously. And I did, successfully- all because of a poem. To this day, I firmly believe in poetry as a radical act of healing.
I didn’t actually start writing until the summer going into my senior year of high school. After Writers Week, I had watched some spoken word videos online, followed some poetry blogs, but that was the extent of it for several years up until the catalyst of my writing career: Slam Camp. Slam Camp is the home of my very first poem. Being there taught me to be my most authentic self, and that my experiences as a young person were not insignificant. It was the catalyst of my writing career. Later that summer, I went to the National Poetry Slam in Boston as a clueless spectator and left with the knowledge that I had to follow the poetry. I was captivated by the magic and empathy of the community atmosphere. The kind and protective “mama bear” attitude the adult poets had towards me. The beautiful words. At 16, I desperately wanted something to pray to. I began to believe in poetry more than I ever believed in any God. I still do.
Senior year, everything skyrocketed. I started writing every day and using Tumblr as a platform to post my work during national poetry month. I got involved in the Chicago slam scene- going to open mics, Young Chicago Authors, almost every venue that would allow a 17-year-old. There was only one all-ages slam in Chicago, Lethal Poetry: my “slamily.” I tried out for their national team and made it, becoming the youngest competitor at the 2014 National Poetry Slam. I chose to attend college in the Twin Cities because it seemed like the place to be to pursue spoken word. Shortly after, my poem Girl Code 101 went viral and I was lucky enough to get a book deal with Where Are You Press, who is putting out my first book GIVE ME A GOD I CAN RELATE TO this summer. Since poetry found me, I haven’t stopped feeling lucky.
Now, I don’t write everyday, but it is definitely the main focus of my life. I try to write what I looked for but could never find in the books I read growing up- an authentic commentary on high school, empowered teenage girls, etc. I try to interpret, analyze, and articulate the world around me to the best of my ability, because I am terrified of history happening without me. I’m terrified of all these stories getting lost or forgotten. Additionally, I always have to work through my feelings before I can act, so I use poetry as a way to process those feelings in a productive way. I used to carry around everything that has ever happened to me. I desperately held onto all my experiences at all times, even the heaviest ones. Poetry gave me a place to put them down.
Find out more about Blythe Baird by clicking here.