“You’re alive. Act like it.”

I’m not sure who said that (either Elevated! or Da Poetry Lounge),  but now perhaps what matters is that it was said, boldly as a thunderous command closing an emotionally and linguistically turbulent meditation on the modern human condition. That blazingly delivered poem charged us to again be human.

At the packed, sold-out National Poetry Slam 2013 finals, I was utterly astounded by the powerful voices slam poets gave history, social issues, personal emotions and so much more. The phrases resonating in the air thick with the energy of fandom (for these poets specifically and for poetry generally), those words wove stories that were everything from heartbreaking to uplifting. A boisterous bro duo gleefully shattered the illusion that first-time lovemaking is smooth and sweet; Mr. Freeze, the Penguin, the Riddler, etc. read their letters to Batman recounting tragic life stories, ultimately instructing him to fix the city that created them; a chorus of positivity encouraged us to celebrate how amazing life is, how remarkable it is, among other things, that our lungs and hearts often work tirelessly, unnoticeably; a substitute teacher’s mind races as he ponders over what he will tell a 4th grade girl who declares her aspirations of becoming the best tetherball player in the world, a world where not all dreams can come true, still pervaded by gender discrimination; a slam duet spun dizzying parallel stories of young siblings separately struggling with what society tells them their bodies should be and do… And far more. Sitting there, transfixed by the transformation of voice and bodily motion into sheer passion, provocation, catharsis and communion,  I could barely believe words could do all this and beyond.

Although the details of diction, rhythm, gesture and tone were crystal sharp as they were unfolding during this most astonishing of artistic evenings, that extreme clarity is ebbing, but among whatever is left as time blurs memory will be the unshakable truth that words spoken bellowed, sung, guffawed and cried on stage connected us, pulled those of us in the audience into feelings and experiences perhaps not our own but unmistakably belonging to all of humanity, dared us to look at our past, present and selves, pushed us to move resolutely and justly into the future.

If there’s a slam poetry venue near you, check it out if you haven’t already.

Here’s the short film Slip of the Tongue, one of the pieces that brought me into the world of spoken word and slam poetry.

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