Poetry and Rapture
There are some who claim that all we are is the sum of our memories. For wordsmith Sarah Kay, this summation of life seems pretty apt. On the makeshift stage at Jatra in Thamel, Sarah, beautiful and effervescent, held the packed audience in a rapturous embrace. Her short informal introduction was a shoutout to Ujjwala Maharjan, resident Word Warrior, and a reminder of her upbringing in New York, which segued smoothly into a spoken word piece on all that growing up in a vibrant metropolis can teach you, and a few, important things, that it can’t. Her opening poem was nostalgic, littered with past recollections and a bildungsroman of sorts, presenting to the Nepali audience Sarah the New Yorker, Sarah the daughter, Sarah the sister and Sarah the poet.
From watching her perform at TED or the myriad videos on YouTube, there are a few things that a viewer can’t quite tell. First, that she’s tall. Then, that this 23-year-old commands the stage with effortless confidence, exuding charm and spirit. But what does come across through video and in person is that her poems are so much persona, bravado, experience and emotion. There are matters of little import to others and yet, the way she tells it, she could very well be narrating the end of the world.
Sarah didn’t recite nor did she narrate. She spoke and there were iambs and rhythm. She gestured and there was fluid grace. Jatra’s floors overflowed with bodies, packed in close and tight, the perfect setting for the current of awe that this poet from so-far-away sent rippling. Two of my friends, who’ve barely ever read any poetry, were mesmerised, and walking away, professed yearning desire, a kind of love that is not contingent upon appearance, knowledge, experience but afflicts at an exchange of glances, the sound of a voice, strong and precise, that comes floating across tousled heads and warm, woollen caps, and sends cochlea vibrating with excitement.
Standing in the doorway, nestled warm by the press of strange bodies and illuminated by a number of Iphones and Ipads busy recording the performance, I forgot to take pictures, forgot the people around me, forgot the bitter cold outside. Sarah sought attention, not actively but gently, as if cajoling the audience with her stories, her memories and the people who make up her life. She spoke lingering of a love long ago but never past, and love between a toothbrush and a bicycle tire that is really, probably, not about a toothbrush and a bicycle tire. She spoke and in speaking, gave advice. Her metaphors were insights, the melody her voice.
Walking away, there was something intangible in the air, as if struck with something too incomprehensible to behold. Maybe this is what poetry does. Walking away, men and women, girls and boys, I think we all fell in love with Sarah Kay.
(Originally published in the Kathmandu Post, 2 December 2012)