“As if you were on fire from within. The moon lives in the lining of your skin.”

Pablo Neruda

Sarah Kay writes beautifully. She speaks eloquently and with an honesty that’s hard not to love. What she’s not is conventional. Or clichéd. One look at her website, will tell you this. An old fashioned cycle leans against a brick wall with a built-in green door. The full moon is radiant and boots lounge on the ground. An umbrella, a lamppost and an origami bird finish the tableau. Click on the bird and fly into her powerful poetry.

The young rhymester’s performance poetry causes spontaneous bursts of applause and standing ovations as was seen in her hugely popular TED appearance of March 2011. Her poem, If I should have a daughter starts with these profound lines:

“If I should have a daughter…“Instead of ‘’Mom”, she’s gonna call me “Point B.” Because that way, she knows that no matter what happens, at least she can always find her way to me. And I’m going to paint the solar system on the back of her hands so that she has to learn the entire universe before she can say “Oh, I know that like the back of my hand.”

The poem became the number 1 Poetry Book on Amazon, ‘B’. Kay is just shy of her 25th birthday.

If you’re into performance/slam/spoken poetry, then you’re familiar with the Bowery Poetry Club in Manhattan. This is where Kay ‘made her bones’, soaking up the unique buzz and passion, in her teens. She didn’t just watch, she participated and thrived. Her engagement with this form of poetry saw her found Project VOICE where spoken word is used to educate and empower. Through workshops and other methods, self-expression is explored as a means to more understanding and strength.

Verse and versatility

Kay is a teacher, a photographer and a filmmaker. Apart from a Master’s degree in teaching from Brown, she also holds an honorary doctorate from Grinnell College. Her debut collection of poetry, No Matter the Wreckage will release in March 2014. Her work online is often accompanied by her voice narrating the lines for you.

Kay’s poetry features love (sometimes extraordinary), family, places, people and the history of spaces. Her writing portrays strong women as is evident from The Type: “(…) Do not mistake yourself for a guardian. Or a muse. Or a promise. Or a victim. Or a snack. You are a woman. Skin and bones. Veins and nerves. Hair and sweat. You are not made of metaphors. Not apologies. Not excuses. (…)And know this: Know you are the type of woman who is searching for a place to call yours. Let the statues crumble. You have always been the place. You are a woman who can build it yourself. You were born to build.”

Powerful words indeed. The combination of poetry and performance is what makes spoken word such a formidable test of talent. To be able to write and then be able to articulate those thoughts in a seamless fashion, blending body, mind and heart together is a delight to watch and listen to.

And Kay does it so well. For this and many other reasons, she’s a popular choice on the talk circuit.

Well-travelled, in India, Sarah has worked with volunteer organisation Pragati and the Delhi Commonwealth Women’s Association where her work sought to document activities, to create awareness and to raise funds for both causes. It’s not just serious themes like Hiroshima that find their way into her poetry.

In Worst Poetry, she talks about the agony of writer’s block and then ends with these beautiful lines, “I sit down to write a poem/and the only thing in my head is you — and I don’t understand/ why you’re the worst thing that ever happened to my poetry/ if you’re the best that ever happened to me.”

How lovely, to take a thing of torture and make it irresistible! Even as you appreciate and relive the pain of having to write, wanting to write and not being able to, you have no choice but to acknowledge the pleasure of spending many a lazy hour immersed in thoughts of the beloved.

Sarah Kay takes poetry to another level. It isn’t ‘art for art’s sake’ but art as a movement, art as a vehicle for profound change.

Idealistic and involved, her poetry and collaborative efforts highlight what creativity is, at the end of the day — something that moves you and that makes you reflect.

(Srividya Sivakumar has recently published a collection of poems called The Blue Note. You can find her work at www.rumwrapt.blogspot.com)