Positivity and excitement met attendees before they could even pass through the doors of the Northshore Performing Arts Center (18125 92nd Ave NE, Bothell, WA 98011) Tuesday, October 24th. The evening acted as the first Beyond the Book Speaker Series; a series dedicated to experiential learning that drives dialog from the classroom and parks it in the middle of the community. The Northshore Schools Foundation is very enthusiastic about this new project because it gets everyone involved: students, parents, teachers, and professionals alike. The evening focused on the spoken word poetry and educational expertise of Sarah Kay.
Katie Ruff, President of the Northshore Schools Foundation, began the evening by welcoming parents, students, and interested community members into the auditorium where she explained the mission of Beyond the Book before handing the stage to superintendent Dr. Michelle Reid. Reid, math-minded and highly analytical, was floored after previously seeing Kay perform some of her poems and had no difficulty understanding the young women’s ability to take control of a room. Dr. Reid went on to say that she and the Northshore Schools Foundation were committed to, “bringing in people who push our thinking.” Dr. Reid then introduced three Northshore School District staff members: Christy Clausen, Linda Laponte, and Leslie Connor. The three bounced off each other’s comments promoting Kay’s ability to connect with students and get them interested and excited about writing. Beyond mere excitement, they also stressed Kay’s skills to teach practical strategies to students in the classroom. Poetry is tough. The most successful of poets and students just learning the basics both understand this but the educators shared a salient observation when they said, “poetry lets students find their voice.” The floor was then graciously given to the evening’s highlight, Sarah Kay.
Kay holds a Master degree in the Art of Teaching Secondary English in addition to a wide array of academic accomplishments. She is the founder and co-director of Project V.O.I.C.E. an organization which uses spoken word poetry to educate and inspire. Credited with accolades and achievements, this project’s poets take to schools and promote empowerment, collaboration in the classroom and community, and creativity all over the world. Students learn creativity, critical thinking, and communication through Project V.O.I.C.E. while boosting their oral and written skills. Over 1,200 Northshore students are going to be able to have a Project V.O.I.C.E. experience.
Sarah Kay is remarkably charming. She takes the stage with grace and then the audience with a tinged silliness that feels thoughtful. She’s oddly conversational in her tone which seems unfitting given her position on stage as a performer but she works it perfectly. She’s informative, thoughtful, and full of substance. Moreover, once she begins one of her pieces her work speaks for itself, exemplifying her compassion and care for education with her commitment for telling powerful, personal, impacting stories through poetry. Kay first explains that she is a “real city kid” and offers a story through a poem that ties the pains of growing up uncertain with the sheer magic of having your own very particular point-of-view. She recalls a time when she first encountered racoons and, being a city kid, thought of them more as magic cats. The poem swings from childhood wonder to juvenile shame when her cousins ostracize her for being the way she is. Though ending on a solemn note in this poem and others, her work often circumnavigates her primary themes. There is still hope, wonder, and uncertainty that hold readers and listeners surprised and contemplative.
Kay segued into an explanation of how she learned the importance of balance thanks to her no-nonsense mother and photographer father. This brought her to what is likely her best known poem which was wildly popularized by her 2011 Ted Talk, “B (If I Should Have a Daughter)”. Kay brings about the drastic realization of a daughter’s understanding that life isn’t easy when she says in the motherly voice of her narrator, “She’s gonna learn that this life will hit you, hard, in the face, wait for you to get back up so it can kick you in the stomach. But getting the wind knocked out of you is the only way to remind your lungs how much they like the taste of air.” These moments failed to leave the audience shocked but only awed at Kay’s ability to articulate and relate life’s rawness.
Kay went on to perform a handful of additional poems that showed her cognizance for social, political, and worldly issues and concerns. Because Kay’s platform and art have been so well received, she has the opportunity to perform her work all over the world. She used her personal experience to explain the major change so many students and individuals explain to her and want to write about. Kay said, “Something shifts in your whole paradigm,” explaining this monumental moment that needs to be shared. For Kay, it was a trip to Indonesia where in the capital city of Jakarta she wrote a love letter for a young man that did not speak English to a young woman that did. Recounting this experience, Kay performed a poem which included pieces when she said, “what is a boy but a glowing thing learning what he can get away with,” with which she countered, “a girl, pulsing, learning what the world can take away from her.” Though cultural constructs made it so these two could never actually be together, Kay was happy to help the young man. Kay’s taxi driver on the way back to her hotel explained that these two forlorn bleeding hearts would never be together which she responded, “but that doesn’t mean he can’t love her.” It is this ability to convey the human experi-ence through performance, skill, and intelligence with which Kay succeeds so well.
Kay went on to explain her history and heritage through her stories of her grandmother’s personal experiences at Japanese internment camps and the tragedy that struck our country on September 11th, 2001. She shared that these terrible things made her feel as if there were no room here for her and her loved ones. Kay triumphantly stated, “my job is to make you understand that there is room for you here.”
Kay finished with a poem that recalled her early education growing up in an international school during her formative kindergarten through 12th-grade years. She explained that she had an Indian woman whom was her principal. This woman took as much stock in each one of her students as she did each of her faculty. “She made us wonder,” Kay said. Though Kay was never able to convey the importance of this singular woman to her before her passing, Kay paid her respects through a poem that was as beautiful as it was powerful. It is due to educators and their diligence to provide a fundamentally creative and robust curriculum that intellects rise and repeat the gifts that they earn and are never simply given.
For more information on Sarah Kay or to purchase any of her three books please visit her website: kaysarahsera.com
For more information on Project V.O.I.C.E. please visit their website: projectvoice.co/project-voice-our-program
For more information about the Northshore School District please visit their website: nsd.org