Look, if you had, one shot, or one opportunity
To seize everything you ever wanted. In one moment
Would you capture it, or just let it slip ?
Eminem (Slim) – ‘Lose yourself’
These simple lines have been my anthem this year as I’ve carved my voice out of its rock.
On the page Eminem’s rap barely touches the sides. It’s easy enough to let it slip. But take it off the page and listen to him rap, feel the sound of the spoken words, the beat, the breath – and language becomes a physical thing. The sounds themselves create disturbances in the body. Rampant profanity and flashes of violence crackle like electricity through the lyrics. Listening to this track in my car I feel punctured. There is a breach.
Curiously the experience reminds me most of searing moments as a child in church listening to the passion of the psalms, the incantations of hymns and liturgy, the poetry of biblical stories read aloud – The Creation, The Flood, The Prodigal Son – which sprang from this same oral tradition of ‘word made flesh’.
The great American poet Etheridge Knight described poetry as “primarily oral utterance”. The voice captures the intimacy of our breath-lines, fast with passion or hesitant on the edge of loss. A mere coma or line break struggles to convey these living rhythms. Our eyes move too quickly and uniformly over the page.
The spoken word, like music, captures a living spirit. These poems were spoken first, often in moments of passion when the truth of them was raw and immediate. Only then, like the embers of a fire did they find their way onto the page.
In the moment of speaking there is for me always an intimate ‘other’ present (often the poems address a ‘you’) which means that there is a call seeking a response, a longing to penetrate, to disturb, to awaken, to meet. There is an urgency about this calling, for as Slim’s rap reminds us:
The soul’s escaping, through this hole that is gaping
This world is mine for the taking