by Mollie (’13)
The first time I read a poem into a microphone on the SOTA main stage in my sophomore year, my voice squeaked and quivered, my face grew pink, and my hands moist. This was not what I was expecting—no, I expected my voice to radiate around the auditorium with the gumption of David Sedaris and the emotion of Maya Angelou—instead, my poem dribbled out of my mouth, muffled, and incoherent, and fell flat. After this experience, I said I didn’t like to present my work on stage, but this simply was not the case. Since the age of eight, I have danced with Fogo Na Roupa (translated from the Portuguese to Clothes on Fire) an Afro-Brazilian dance troupe. I have adored every performance I have ever had—adored the samba I perform on stage and the feeling of my feathered, sequined costume moving with my body. What I meant when I said I didn’t like to read my work on stage was that I wasn’t very good at it. If I wasn’t a good reader, I could not like it. Nobody would listen to me, or care about what I was reading. And plus, if I sucked at performing and didn’t love what I was reading, why should I even care.
I once read that poet Paul Celan once said, “I see no basic difference between a handshake and a poem”. My god, what pressure! So through our writing, we introduce ourselves to the world?! We affirm our identity through our stories, and poems, and essays?! Yes. Writing, as I’ve come to learn, requires the writer to be vulnerable. Said vulnerability is challenging. Writing say, a poem about my experience as a light-skinned Latina and societal expectations of me because of my skin color, is vulnerable. One could compare it to walking naked through a crowd of fully-clothed people. Performing that poem to an audience of two-hundred people should be compared to doing naked lunges through a crowd of fully-clothed people (that is, very, very vulnerable).
Writing, as I’ve learned in my three years in the Creative Writing Department, is a creation of the writer’s experience. Not only does one have to be fully invested in the story one is telling during the process of transcribing this experience to paper, but in the act of performing the piece. As a sophomore, I tried to write around my experiences—attempting to omit my life from my writing, and discuss the objective—to protect what was potentially difficult or scary from the outside world. It didn’t work out very well; I didn’t have much to say. Added, I hated performing these pieces because I usually embarrassed myself, because I didn’t like what I was reading, because I wasn’t writing any work I cared about. It took me my sophomore year to discover this.
Last summer, when deciding what I would write about for my senior thesis, the culminating project for any Creative Writer at SOTA, I finally decided to write a thesis about my biracial identity. It’s challenging to talk about the people, events, and experiences that are, themselves challenging. It sometimes makes me feel transparent, or naked. Yet, this process if validating. Not only do I care about the work I produce, but I’ve realized how political the personal can be. Plus, I think I’ve become better at reading my work. For the Senior Poetry Café, I read pieces from thesis about my relationship to my father, grandfather, and my memories of my childhood in Ecuador. For our October show, I read a poem about feeling alienated from my Ecuadorian culture because I don’t speak Spanish. These topics are hard to write about and hard to perform, but I want to keep doing both. I noticed my voice didn’t quiver, and my knees didn’t shake during these performances. In fact, I was invigorated. During the final lines of the last poem I read at the Senior Poetry Café, I paused between the final words of my poem, looking up, and observing the audience looking at me. I paused before uttering the last words of my piece. I did not feel vulnerable, I felt powerful. As I finish up my time in the Creative Writing Department, I know this trend of being vulnerable in my writing will continue. It has to, otherwise how will I speak with the world, how will I tell people what I think or what I hold dear to me, and how will I grow as an artist?