This is a new art for me. I’m still learning to tap into this space of rawness, and being okay with letting myself go. Exposing yourself is not easy. We work so hard creating this protective shield around us, so opposing forces aren’t able to get in. So how do you unlearn this natural defense mechanism that keeps you from reaching your highest you as an artist?
Nathan Say, the man who inspired me to write this very article, is a performance poet, and has been writing since he was 5, performing his first piece at 23 called, “Hands of Another”. He advises me: “You should be stripped bare, every poem you do. If you get on stage enough times, and read through your poems enough, your pain becomes an object instead of a subject. Like when I do ‘Resurrection‘, I can recall the pain and terrors of my rape, of my disability, my memories of high school.”
Right now I have a hard time getting into that world. I feel as if I keep my poetry at arms length, I keep my front as to not be fully exposed. I worked so hard at being tough, that I have to remove all these layers I thought were protecting me, to be vulnerable.
“It’s your subconscious not allowing to go there. It’s uncomfortable for it. You have to talk to your body. Tell it, we’re gonna’ do this poem, and we’re not stopping until you let me in. I start meditating on the poem about five minutes before I know I was going on stage, which allowed me to hit the stage with those emotions. This all takes time and practice”.
Also, had the great privilege of interviewing Natalie Patterson, a poet and much more, based in Los Angeles who has been writing since she was a kid, which she took to naturally.
I didn’t call it poetry then but I still have the journals and it was poetry.
Did you read a lot of books? or read any poetry before you started writing?
It was very hard for me to learn to read, I was in almost 5th grade before I was good at it. I had never read any poetry that was memorable or moved me until I was in high school at least. I just understood the power of words and I wanted to be powerful.
Do you feel starting at a young age, helped you get more used to being vulnerable?
hell yes. I wasn’t scared to be myself. I had direction and could navigate this experience in a way I didn’t see other people being able to. I mean, I teach classes on how to be vulnerable as an artist because it is the thing about myself I most value and hardly see others being willing to do.
How does one remove our shields? You know, I try to be tough. Going through shit, being a single mom.
Oh, I know and it’s how we survive… the problem is, we truly want to LIVE and THRIVE. The layers build in our hearts first then bleed into everything else… our dreams are crushed beneath the weight of our fear.
What inspired you to take your poetry to the stage and when did you do it?
When I was in college I had been writing a lot. 5 people I was close to died in like 6 months or something. I was heartbroken. I went to a poetry show and fell in love and then realized OMG.. people do this, like really do this and get paid. That might have been the moment I understood what the rest of my life might look like. Going to Da poetry lounge seeing “normal” people sharing gave me permission to start.
Is there a ritual or something you’ve got to do to prep yourself to get on stage?
I had a ritual. I used to try to perform but that didn’t fit me. I’m a giver. I am selfless expression on my best days. but to get here was a LONG road. After the first few years of “performing” I really couldn’t see the art in what I was doing cause it was more ego. It was really about who liked me and if I was “killing it” every time. I had to stop performing and listen again. GO back to the simplicity of falling in love with poetry again. My ritual was only sharing when I was moved to and before I went on stage reminding myself that these words are bigger than I am. That they were given to me to SHARE not HOLD AND CLAIM. Now I KNOW this… so I don’t have to be reminded or remember.
I hang out with a lot of visual artists. In particular, street art. So, EGO really comes up a lot. You have your street name which is never your real name. But there is this risk that the street name will overcome who you really are. You fall into this persona, of drugs, running from cops, chics/dudes, gangs, drinking.
Street art is not different. poets have the same fucking problems. it’s just metaphor… we got fake names… we got who people think we are.. we got public opinion, we got going too far, we got “police” watching what we say and how we teach and cutting checks which dictates how we live… you know.
Also, as an artist. You are more sensitive and more susceptible. Take a good example, Amy Winehouse who just died of a drug overdose. What is going on here? Is it that it’s so confusing having all these emotions? You don’t know how to channel?
Yeah.. I mean she is a perfect example. it’s hard to navigate. The road can eat you alive or help you breathe.
You do workshops. For what organizations or causes?
Solo and with Collective Voices Foundation (for at risk high school students). I’m working with the city of Pasadena doing a 6 week program right now and then working with 826la in a few weeks… plus I teach my workshop, connecting with the artist in you – vulnerability and integrity several times a year.
What else are you involved in? Where do you perform?
I produce and host Da poetry Lounge – the nation’s largest poetry venue. I’m working on a book and I share my work at festivals and colleges or in living rooms and art spaces.
Why I became a poet? well, had to write. Didn’t start out when I was born like a lot of the poets I meet. I had all this steam and no way of venting. Went through a tough ten years with a guy. Then I went to my first slam a few years back and I loved it, I heard about Elevated here in San Diego, and started attending fairly regularly.
After a while, I couldn’t help but write after every show, like, having to pull over on the way home cause I couldn’t wait to write some stuff down. I never was into reading books, or poems. The performers inspired me, that they were so willing to share their deepest parts of themselves. That perhaps I could share that with myself, find me in all this mess. Then I got into questioning why even share my poetry. Like, who am I? Natalie had a great answer, “we are all special. You have to turn the light on for people to see”.
People can get so caught up in their own lives that they forget there is a world beyond themselves. There is a lack of passion and romance in society right now. Like seeing a bunch of wilting flowers. My personal objective would be broadening perspective. Expanding minds. There is more to life people! So perhaps I can do this through performance poetry and my writing.
There is no doubt though, You have to be willing to wear your heart on sleeves. Otherwise you’re a half poet. I’m working on becoming full.
Have fun with the fun pieces, make love to the love pieces, and cry with the sad ones. But, to do this, you have to let yourself go. I will practice, and practice, so you can see what I have to show.
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Nathan Say on Youtube
Natalie “18 Days” on Youtube
Natalie Patterson’s website