The Poetry of Empowerment
The Hamline University student turns stories of anorexia, sexual abuse and misogyny into anthems of confidence.
By Payton Ramey, University of Central Florida
Attempting to trapeze through the maze that is college is hard enough, not to mention the extra effort it takes to survive late-night study sessions, caffeine-fueled lecture halls and loads of hours wasted on an underwhelming summer job.
With so many students spending their free time dozing off and re-reading the latest gossip on Kim Kardashian, it’s easy to see why their to-do lists keep growing.
Studying Creative Writing, Women’s Studies and American Sign Language, Hamline University student Blythe Baird makes life in the fast lane look easy, though. As the youngest competitor in the 2014 National Poetry Slam, she has won the hearts of hundreds through her spoken words on sexual assault, eating disorders and female sexuality.
Already an accomplished author, actress and feminist, Baird expertly transforms the complexities of life into a true work of art and, in doing so, proves that every person, regardless of their experiences, is a powerful, significant and validated individual.
Discovering Spoken Word
First exposed to the creative world of spoken word during her sophomore year in high school, Baird found refuge in the work of Sierra DeMulder, whose phrase “Your body is not a temple, your body is the house you grew up in. How dare you try to burn it to the ground?” completely rocked her world. “That line made me start taking recovery seriously,” says Baird.
Later, when she attended a Slam Camp at sixteen years old, Baird found that the performer who had captivated her a year earlier was now her camp counselor. While learning the ins and outs of poetry through a competitive lens, slam eventually become the catalyst for her future writing career.
During her senior year, her involvement with writing skyrocketed to a new level. Using Tumblr as a platform to post and learn about the spoken word community, she connected with the Chicago Slam scene by attending any open mics and performances she could find.
“My involvement in spoken word has completely shaped the lens through which I view the world, and taught me how to pull the meaning and significance out of my personal experiences in order to use them as a method of eliciting social change,” she says.
For Baird, poetry is more than pen to paper. It’s an authentic commentary on the world around her. Instead of writing on traditional cookie-cutter topics, which seem to be forced upon people at birth, she writes to hold the world accountable.
“Since I learned writing in the context of slam, I have always written to expose some lack of truth,” she says.
“Girl Code 101” is perhaps one of her most popular poems, amassing over one-million views on YouTube. With lines as poignant as “Male kindness is so alien to us, we assume it is seduction every time,” and “This is not female privilege, this is survival of the prettiest,” it’s easy to see why she has garnered so much attention.
Each piece of writing stems from a place of frustration toward her own life experiences, which are often too heavy to overlook.
“As a survivor of sexual assault, writing has become integral to my healing process,” she says.
Using poetry as a platform for processing her feelings, she has grown an incredible collection of work based on a number of different topics, the most notable of which include weight, sexuality, rape culture and feminism, though writing on such subject matter does come at a cost.
For many, listening to the harsh truths of reality is far too uncomfortable to handle, but still, Baird insists that exposure to these subjects is necessary for growth.
“It’s important for people to sit with that discomfort, because that’s how you learn from it,” she says.
“Give Me a God I Can Relate To”
Being a full-time college student is exhausting enough, but add being a published author, and it’s safe to say you’re taking the world by storm.
Approached by Clementine Von Radics after her performance during the 2014 National Poetry Slam, Baird was given the opportunity to write a book and spent the next year putting together a combination of both old and new work to debut.
Her first book, titled “Give Me A God I Can Relate To,” is a collection of poetry and writing that touches on themes revolving around high-school experiences, coming out as a member of the LGBTQ+ community and anorexia.
“My writing process is scattered. I have a different writing process for spoken word poems than I do for page poems. For page poems, I usually go back into my notes and journals to find common themes to draw from. For spoken word poems, they usually come out as a first draft in one sitting prompted by a specific event,” says Baird.
What the Future Holds
Unlike many students, who can’t accurately say what they’ll be having for dinner, Baird has her future planned out. Hoping to start off teaching spoken word to high schoolers, she hopes to become a professor or work alongside her fellow poetry fans at a publishing house, all while facilitating writing workshops throughout the nation. Regardless of where she ends up, it’s obvious that writing will remain a part of her forever.
“When I get messages like ‘I ate breakfast because of your poem,’ ‘I started going to therapy and getting help because of your poem’ or even ‘your poetry makes me feel like I’m not alone,’ I remember that my writing is doing bigger things than I, as a person, am capable of,” she says.
Blythe Baird is the voice of female millennials who are scared to speak up. Her ability to create meaningful and relevant conversations surrounding such triggering topics is by far some of the best that I’ve seen.
By now, I’ve watched most of Blythe’s performance videos and have combed through her book about five dozen times, yet each time brings forth the same captivated feelings as before. She is definitely one to look for in the future because her voice can only get louder from here.