When I first started writing poetry, I didn’t know where to start. I was putting words down onto a piece of paper but there was no flow. I didn’t know how to organize my thoughts to form a singular message.
Looking for answers, my Generation-Z self turned to a source that I knew could help me: the internet. And the internet did not disappoint; in fact, it handed me possibly one of the best gifts I have ever had the privilege to receive: spoken word poetry.
Specifically, I was introduced to Button Poetry. Button Poetry is an organization that wants to help showcase the power of voice by distributing poetry media from local and national events, chapbooks, audio recordings and more. As I delved deeper into the Button Poetry YouTube account, I discovered what would end up being one of my most favorite spoken word poems to date, “Shrinking Women” by Lily Myers.
I will never forget the first lines of “Shrinking Women.” Nor will I ever forget Myers’ closed eyes and deep inhale before she reaches out to gently touch the microphone and walk closer to the audience. Then, “Across from me at the kitchen table, my mother smiles over red wine that she drinks from a measuring glass.” It was these words that captured me.
As Myers talked about her observations about women in her family, I grew to realize that poetry was much more than just saying a jumble of words. Toward the end of her poem, she says, “I asked five questions in genetics class today and all of them started with the word ‘sorry.’” These words hit hard as I realized that I could relate to them, and it was then I realized the universality of spoken word.
From that one video, I went on a long journey to find as many spoken-word performances as I could. From the multitudes of spoken-word poems that I watched, I learned that poetry was about expression in every sense: economical, social, political. As our society has grown much more progressive and comfortable with talking about taboo topics, spoken word has followed that trend. More and more poems cover topics such as mental health, rape, ideal body standards and social media.
As it turns out, my love for spoken word poetry isn’t isolated to just me. A National Endowment for the Arts survey shows that the percent of adults who read poetry in the past year is at an all-time high. In a Star Tribune article that featured Button Poetry’s founder Sam Van Cook, he said, “We’re seeing astronomical growth. Friends who work in book sales … we joke that for the first time in any of our lives, poetry is a growth industry.”
Of course, social media is the main driving force behind this phenomenon. Button Poetry’s YouTube channel has over 1 million followers. Poet Rupi Kaur boasts over 3.4 million Instagram followers alone. But where does the inspiration come from? What drives the need to create and consume poetry?
In all honesty, it comes from the need for a voice of unification and the search for truth. In a society so torn politically and socially, poetry is able to share the thoughts of an individual and relate it to the masses. Viral poems help magnify the voices of women, minorities, LGBTQ+ groups and many more.
By giving poetry an audible voice, spoken word hits hard. Instead of simply reading from a piece of paper, the words are said to you, and the speaker sets the tone. In fact, Van Cook founded Button Poetry because he believes that poetry is “most vibrant read aloud, and read by someone who loves it.”
It’s easy to see how true this is, especially when it comes to views and comments on different performances that the account uploads. Often, a poet who is lesser-known in the community will amass tens of thousands of views on a spoken-word performance. The comments on videos are free of judgment, and generally share how moved the viewers were by the words of the speaker.
A lot of the time, the difficulty in getting a message across can be the mode of communication. Most often, an author speaks but is never heard, or is heard by very few people. If there’s one thing that Button Poetry is doing amazingly, it’s making sure that poets are being heard.
With new posts that appeal to new audiences and old posts like Jesse Parent’s “To the Boys Who May One Day Date My Daughter” that keep long-time fans of spoken word and Button Poetry coming back, it’s impossible to not find a poet or genre that speaks to you.
So if you’re like the old me from five years ago, looking for a creative outlet that will help you express yourself, or you just want to find a voice to represent you, check out spoken word and Button Poetry. Maybe you’ll find a way to share your own truth with the world.