Personal Statement: Why Performance Poetry?

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Once considered an underground niche art form, Slam Poetry venues can now be found in almost every major US city and beyond. Slam Poetry is the competitive art of Performance Poetry and Spoken Word. Usually, poets share original poems that consider writing, stage performance, and vocal techniques and are judged by a random grouping of audience members. However a slam event is organized, the genre is inherently dramatic and confessional, drawing its influences from traditional poetic form, theater & monologue, hiphop, punk rock, and the cross-cultural traditions of oral storytelling. Caroline Harvey is a leader in the field, and has spent the last 14 years sharing a passion for Spoken Word with audiences and students all over the world.

A creative and introverted learner with rare abilities to see and process audio visual stimuli, Caroline was (like so many others) misdiagnosed, miscategorized, and made to feel flawed by a culture that values impossible physical ideals. As a young person, Caroline lived daily with great suffering and self-loathing that took the form of deep sadness,  dangerously restrictive eating patterns, long periods of isolation, suicide attempts & cutting, an inability to maintain healthy personal boundaries, and drug & alcohol abuse.

Pulled by a universal and inextinguishable inner voice and inspired by a supportive community, Caroline pursued work as an artist, writer, dancer and performer. While seeking necessary help from Western medicine, Caroline also searched for healing in the practices of yoga, in literature and visual art, in the teachings of Buddhism, naturopathy, homeopathy, and more. One day a renowned psychopharmacologist pulled out a print of Vincent van Gogh’s Starry Night.

Together Caroline and the doctor stared at the painting and talked about what they saw in the dark hues and frenetic brush strokes. The doctor asked Caroline about what Vincent must have been seeing and hearing on a daily basis to create such a robust and important piece of art. Caroline felt a stark truth in that moment: that the bodies & brains we’re given are ours for the long haul. Our unique biological make-up can either overwhelm us, or we can learn to maneuver and master it. And it seemed true, there in that office staring at a dog-eared print of Starry Night, that the art and service Caroline wanted to offer were only possible if these so-called disorders became assets.

In 2002 in Los Angeles, Caroline went to a Slam Poetry event for the first time. Despite an initial disinterest in the competitive aspect of slam culture, Caroline felt at home and was immediately compelled by the generous invitation to be unapologetically honest and alive. One after another poets shared their brave stories. They shouted, whispered, and sang their fears and their healing prayers on a stage inside a bar that seemed more like a temple. It was different than other poetry events in that the room seemed consciously gathered together for the purpose of active personal evolution and catharsis. Even though Caroline felt anxious and depressed, had been crying all afternoon (and was wearing her pajamas), Caroline got onstage and read  “Like a Crown.” Caroline started a slam journey there at Green in LA with Ratpack Slim & DJ Jedi, and then moved up to Northern California where the poets could be regularly found on sticky barstools at The Starry Plough or the Oakland Metro. Still resistant to competing, Caroline spent a first year coaching poets on their performance and vocal technique. And then with the help and love of friend Shane Koyczan, Caroline decided to compete for a spot at the big show and won a spot onto both the Berkeley and San Jose Teams in 2004 (ultimately choosing to compete with the San Jose Team to work with buddy Mike McGee). Caroline has been a slam team member and/or a coach somewhere every year since 2003.

Caroline will always consider Slam Poetry to be one of the most precious tools for survival and health. Caroline is committed to creating safe and exciting spaces in which anyone- regardless of literary skill, performance experience, personal history, belief system or politic– can bask in the liberating and healing gifts of Spoken Word.

Caroline Harvey-logo

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