The first taste I had of the spoken word was in middle school. At first, I wasn't so sure about it.
My teacher, a strange middle-aged woman with a graveyard of skeletons in her closet, showed our class "Poet Breathe Now" by Adam Gotlieb. I was confused at first, unable to understand why anyone would call what I had just witnessed poetry. I was astounded that a 17 year old boy could get this much praise for salivating into a microphone. I left that class still confused, almost angry. Something took me over around 1 A.M that following morning, causing me to listen to that slam poem more times than I could count. This time, I analyzed every line, breath, and voice crack. Sleepless at school, I went straight for Ms. Tully.
"I need more," I said. That simple statement transformed my life.
I started to sneak into poetry slams at a local tea shop. It was always cramped and damp and everyone there looked like extras out of "Glee." As an athletic and stereotypical middle-class person, I was out of my element. Yet, no one ever bothered or spoke to me in my small corner table. This limited interaction was my only connection to the spoken word until my sophomore year of high school.
As a sophomore in high school, my life changed.
I almost never showed up to class, and when I did, there was a certain aroma lingering on my clothes, which eventually caught the attention of the officers at my school. In between trips to the sheriff's office and surprise check-ups from deputies at my doorstep, I wrote. I was tired, angry, and frankly unamused at everything around me except for the endless whirlwind of thoughts that occupied my mind at all times. I thought if I could write them down, I could look back on my words and eventually laugh or maybe cry.
My life was improving until others read my work. They scolded me for my harsh words. After that, I stopped writing altogether.
The months blended together after that. I didn't write until the following year when the worst expletive couldn't even begin to compensate for what was going on at home, at school, really everywhere. I had a journal bound in faux golden leather, weathered with countless hours of thought. The pages were worn, thin, and soft from turns and corners folded. It was late, well into the early hours of the next day, but the moon had not yet given way to the sun. I hadn't spoken to anyone for days. I knew my voice would be hoarse from lack of use, so I dared not speak.
I didn't know what to say to anyone at this point, let alone myself; so, I finally wrote. The earlier pieces didn't make much sense to anyone. I didn't know how to put it in any other way that would be pleasing to the ear. I simply put my vulnerable heart in my hands and let bypassers observe as they wished, taking what they wanted from it.
When the air grew crisp and cool in the late months of the year, when I had long since regained my voice, both figuratively and literally, I presented my first recipient with the leather-bound book, along with all I had tirelessly scribbled into its pages. He looked over his narrow rimmed glasses at me, and with one word, he put a harsh restriction on what I figured to be the entire universe put into pages. Just one word, a simple three syllables: poetry.
He read my face and repeated himself, more assuring this time. "Poetry...this is poetry." This remark had me shaken. I felt my face turn hot with anger. I was not a poet.
I didn't shoot espresso in the dark corners of a coffee shop. My thoughts forced on to paper were in no way pleasing to the ear. My words were harsh and knew no form of restraint. In angry poems, my words burned holes through the paper.
A poet would never; this was not poetry.
After this encounter, I continued to write, and with this certain person's guidance and countless hours, I have written a poetry book. Only a dozen people have read it, mostly friends, but all have come back with the same feedback. My work has made them feel less alone. They felt as if their struggle meant something, even if they were struggling in silence.
I no longer shudder at the thought of myself being a poet. Now, I help new writers find their voice in hopes it has the same effect on them as it did me.