Sarah Kay is her own genre. She has managed and created her own label and makes it practically impossible for anyone to now synonymously associate slam poetry and protest poetry. In most Youtube slam sensations, a person creates a swell and soft tide of screaming, then whispering, both to keep the audience on their toes and to magnify the experience of emotions.
Sarah Kay talks with her hands. Sarah Kay Mona Lisa smiles every other line. Sarah Kay is the girl next door of spoken word and has held stages grander than a coffee shop stool and louder than a bar brawl, but Sarah Kay rarely has to yell. This is probably why she was invited to TED to perform “B (If I should have a daughter)” her poem for her unborn daughter.
If you’re a girl, you might have imagined this, just maybe… about … seven thousand times.
At some point when you were seven and holding a plastic American Girl Doll in your arms, her hair perfectly braided and sewn in, you thought, “this here, this is my daughter, I shall push her in a stroller and take tea with her across the table.” As you aged, the fantasy became more real. In high school, after you saw a cute boy’s smile, you imagined the hybrid of your and his offspring in a scrapbook (think: Kate Hudson a la How To Lose a Guy in Ten Days). Maybe in college, you met someone who you suspected to be “the one” but you didn’t know if you believed in those sorts of things and you started imagining him not as a boyfriend, but as a father. What kind would he be? Was he good with your niece? Can he handle a dog licking his face? Does he stank-face you when you say how cute a little girl’s outfit is? How does he show his love for his mother?
These are all imagined things, but sometimes these fantasies become so real in women’s heads that they have to write them down. I have friends that have written letters to these children. I have made her names known to my current boyfriend and my mother. This might be a girl’s M.O.
Sarah Kay wrote “B” as a poem to be spoken. And then Sophia Janowitz made it a story on the page.
The book is an atlas of girlhood. It’s the landscape of a woman’s imagination of what she can produce from her body and make into something new (not that children are craft projects). It’s called “B” for the very first line, “If I should have a daughter, instead of Mom, she’s going to call me Point B. Because that way she knows that no matter what happens, at least she can always find her way to me.”
I feel this exact way about my own mother. She is my Point B. At one time in my life I lived the farthest I could possibly live away from her, almost four flights, countless layovers, six high blood pressure pills, and thirty-two hours at the minimum, away from her and she was still my Point B. I always knew the way back to her, she was a connect the dots of my life and this poem by Sarah Kay is that finished picture written down.
It’s all beautiful, but not always pretty. Sarah Kay is raw with her audience. She knows the daughter will be hit “hard, / in the face,” but tells the daughter that this is the only way she will know how much her lungs love the taste of air. She talks about unfixable hurt, wider than poetry can solve. The encouragement is in lines like, “Because no matter how wide you stretch your / fingers, your hands will always be too small to / catch all the pain you want to heal.”
She hits boys; the advantage of the bad boy and the one who needs to be saved, both different in their own way. The power of chocolate. The luxury of rain. The pinhole of a microscope for the expanse of the human mind. Shirelle’s lyrics that my Mom and I used to sing locked in the car in a car wash because I was deathly afraid and only Motown successfully let fear collapse. (This was just a strange connection between Sarah Kay’s upbringing and my own). Disappointment in people, in weather, in bruises, in pain. The authority of gratitude.
My favorite line:
“You will put the star in starting over and over.” Last week, in a comment on my homesickness, Claire said, “Life is a series of attaching and letting go,” the very point of the beauty in these lines.
This poem turned printed story has a lot of word play (land minds / mind lands) and a lot of lessons without being forceful.
“Baby, / I’ll tell her, / remember your mama is a worker, and your papa / is a warrior, and you are the girl with small hands / and big eyes who never stops asking for more.”
The illustrations are simple and brilliant like a kids crayon drawing when it’s complete, rain boots toward puddles, kites, hot tea, frumpish little girl bows.
I think this small diddy is the perfect fit in your pocket, to remind you your alive, to keep your thoughts in the future for just a few minutes, when the present is a task that’s not yet completed.
To hear the poem by Sarah Kay before purchasing the perfect partner in bench warming, click here.