Stepping up to a microphone to share poetry you’ve written can be terrifying.
Kendra Steel can sympathize. She admits she once had to rely on liquid courage to do it. But now the 24-year-old poet from Everett has come to enjoy taking the mic.
Steel attends Everett Poetry Night at Cafe Zippy on Thursdays. After a year and a half, it’s easy to let her nerves go and shift her mind to poetry. She sees poetry as an outlet. When she’s stressed out and feeling low, that’s when the words start pouring out.
“It’s kind of like a venting session,” she said. “You just want (your thoughts and feelings) to flow from your mouth and into the air, and then you can ground yourself from there. You’ve released this thing you’ve been building up (inside you).”
Nationwide, more and more young people are getting involved in spoken word and performance poetry.
According to a National Endowment for the Arts survey, from 2012 to 2017 the number of poetry readers between the ages of 18 and 24 has doubled.
The survey also found that social media is contributing to an increased interest in poetry among young people. If they’re not attending poetry readings at cafes and bookstores, they’re sharing their work with their peers on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.
Social media could explain why younger poets haven’t tipped the scales at poetry readings here. Most of the poets attending readings at the Edmonds Bookshop, Black Lab Gallery and Cafe Zippy in Everett, and Tulalip’s Hilbub Cultural Center, for example, are 25 and older.
On a recent poetry night at Cafe Zippy, there were about a dozen poets in attendance. Just three of them were 24 or younger. Duane Jensen, who has hosted Everett Poetry Night since 2006, estimates the cafe sees up to 40 spoken-word artists each week.
“They’re finding out there’s no judgment,” Jensen said of his regulars. “They just lay it on the line. They just keep coming back and sharing deeper and more personal work.”
Steel is one of his regulars. She turned to poetry during a tough time in her life. During one horrible week in 2016, a close friend of hers died, her relationship ended, she became homeless and she had to put her dog up for adoption.
After seeing her struggling, a friend suggested she write poetry as a creative outlet. The friend told her about the Everett Art Walk, where creatives share art and poetry every third Thursday around town. Steel’s favorite class at Lake Stevens High School was creative writing — and she hadn’t lost her itch to put her thoughts on paper — so she gave it a try.
“One of the saving graces of that time was having a community to say, ‘Come in, we want to hear about it,’ ” Steel said.
Now back on her feet, she not only performs her poetry Thursdays at Cafe Zippy on Rucker Avenue, but she reads Mondays at Black Lab Gallery on Hewitt Avenue, too.
A year and a half ago, Steel’s poems were about grief and loss, but today she focuses more on topics like philosophy, sensuality, fiction, politics and activism. She says she also works to perfect the tone, rhythm and passion in her voice when reading. Her spoken performance is just as important to her as the words she writes.
She says she keeps coming back because she feels valued by her fellow poets. They don’t see her as damaged goods; they see her as someone they can relate to. With every poem, she hopes to share an idea or feeling that someone else needed to hear.
Hazel Graves and Tara Mattocks, Glacier Peak High School juniors who read their work aloud on a recent Thursday, say they share their poetry for similar reasons.
“It’s a healthy way to get out emotions,” Tara said. “Sharing it is this huge outlet and makes me feel less alone.”
Jensen, the poetry night host at Cafe Zippy, says that writing and reading your poetry takes a lot of courage. He likes to see young people taking up that challenge, because he says it will only help them.
“If you can get up and speak in front of people — whether it’s poetry or acting — almost any other challenge in front of you is going to pale in comparison,” Jensen said.
“So often people are afraid of how people are going to react to your opinion, and even more so, if what you’re writing about is personal.
“Any chance people have to shine in public and have a greater sense of worth, that’s going to translate to anything they’re going to do.”
In addition to weekly readings in Everett, Steel logs in to her social media accounts to read poetry. But she seldom posts her own poems online. Most of the time, she says she’ll write one to see how it feels, then end up deleting it.
She likes it better that way. Steel says reading poetry to an audience can have a more lasting impact than a Facebook post.
“I like it when people remember what I have to say rather than read it,” Steel said.
“It pushes me to write better, to make something memorable.”
Evan Thompson: 360-544-2999, firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @evanthompson_1.
“2016” by Kendra Steel
We starve on “freedom”
While Cerberus gorges on
Hate speech by Hades
From the artist: “I think I wrote it with the idea that, while we are under one comfortable illusion, we forget — or grow numb — to what else is happening around us. The problems we’re facing drastically outnumber the solutions to them.”
Edmonds Bookshop: 5 p.m. third Thursdays. Third Thursday Art Walk poetry readings are held during the Everett Art Walk at the bookshop, 111 Fifth Ave. S., Edmonds. Call 425-775-2789 for more.
Black Lab Gallery: 7 p.m. Mondays. The gallery offers a poetry reading each Monday evening at 1618 Hewitt Ave., Everett. For more information, call 425-512-9476.
Cafe Zippy: 7 p.m. Thursdays. Everett Poetry Night at the cafe is on most Thursday evenings at 1502 Rucker Ave., Everett. Call 425-303-0474.
Hibulb Cultural Center: 6 p.m. first Thursdays. The museum’s Open Mic Poetry series continues. In the Longhouse Room at 6410 23rd Ave. NE, Tulalip. Visit www.hibulbculturalcenter.org for more.