I am not from Nepal, and Scott has not lived here in years, so we’re both out of touch in terms of places to visit, and acts to see, and whatever is happening in Kathmandu. Add to that the responsibilities that come with being married adults, and we have found ourselves spending most of our time at home.
Last Tuesday was an exception. We went to see the American spoken word poets Phil Kaye and Sarah Kay perform a selection of their poems at a school auditorium in Lalitpur. The event was co-organized by Word Warriors, a local group of spoken word poets. I did not know that such a group existed, and had no way of knowing about the event. I came to know of it through Sarah Kay’s promotional post on Faceboook. I got so excited that I booked the tickets right then and there.
Thankfully, I have a husband who understood, and consequently shared my love for spoken word poetry. And for Sarah and Phil, by extension. I have known about them for some years now. My friends from the Philippines watched them when they had a tour there. Scott gifted me with No Matter The Wreckage, Sarah’s compilation of poems, on my birthday on the year that it came out. So I was pleasantly surprised to find out that they were in the Kathmandu, and that we had a good chance of seeing them. And so we grabbed that chance.
And we’re so glad that we did! They were amazing.
I’ve always had this weird relationship with poetry. I want to like it but had a hard time understanding most of it. I could not distinguish between something that was hastily written, and one in which every word of every line was a product of careful consideration. I didn’t know if something was so profound and I just don’t know how to make sense it, or if it was just plain stupid. And why cut off the lines in a certain way? Why is the last word of a line placed as the first word of the next stanza? And why indent the lines in a certain way, or not at all? I had so much of these small questions that at some point I actually bought a book about how to read poetry. But I couldn’t get past the introduction so I don’t know what that book said. So over the years I found a few poems that I like here and there, but as for the entire art form, I was pretty meh about it.
…until I discovered spoken word poetry. It was such a game-changer. The performance element made it so alive and gripping. With every poem spoken by Sarah and Phil that night, it seems like I held my breath, and squeezed Scott’s hands tightly. And I only exhaled and let go at the end, with an “oh my God” and an applause.
I have Sarah’s book and there were good poems there, and others that make me go “huh? whut?”. But overall, I felt underwhelmed because her poems were made to be spoken, and when you read them on the page they kind of fell flat. So when I watched her and Phil perform their poems, they felt new. As if I hadn’t come across them before, even if I’ve read them already. More so when they shared the context of the poem before they delivered it.
After the show, we had my book signed by Sarah, and a postcard with a few lines from Phil’s poem signed by him. There were also 6 or 7 Nepali poets who opened the show, and we talked to a few of them too. There were beginners who were very young, and clearly nervous. But there were brilliant ones as well. I understood the ones who spoke in English, but it was also nice to see the ones who delivered in Nepali, if only to know that they’re creating poems in their native tongue. Up until now, I’ve only really seen Nepali people go about their daily lives. And it’s exciting to see the ones who are writing poems and traveling the country performing them and teaching the art form to others. In support of what they do, and also out of curiosity about their work, we bought a compilation of poems by Nepali women.
Overall, it was an amazing night. The mundane things have a way of making everyday life seem unexciting and I felt that that night awakened my soul. It’s nice to have something fun and profound and unexpected and life-giving happen every now and then. I am thankful.