A few weeks ago I decided to participate in a twenty-four hour, public poetry reading project. The idea was that in the public square, outside city hall, poets would get up and read their poems around the clock.
The afternoon and evening poems were more or less what you would expect. There were a lot of bad poets, poets who read poems that sounded like stuff they’d written for school. And there were a few good poets, too.
The best part, though, came in the middle of the night. Nighttime is my favorite because it’s when all the dunks and crazies come together and collaborate. It’s when everyone’s agendas collide. Day people ignore each other, but night people bond in their craziness.
In the midst of all the bizarre poetry made by drunks and lunatics, a beautiful trans woman made up for a night on the town. She stood and walked up to the mic, with all eyes in the crowd following.
“I’ve never done this before,” she said. “And I don’t even know who you people are, but tonight is so amazing. I want to recite a poem by my favorite hip hop group. The lyrics are so incredible and powerful, but at the same time they are the most transphobic material I’ve ever read. I want to own that.”
With this she began to recite. It was a strange, and somehow moving experience to see her grabbing those words, that were so obviously generated from a kind of ignorance and bigotry, and turning them into a point of laughter. At the same time as these words were a point of laughter, she had also made them incredibly sad.
I think the moment was transformational for me because it made me see that even if I can’t live somebody’s suffering, I can still see that it is suffering. Seeing what gives other people pain and pleasure, and understanding that their feelings are real and legitimate is part of what makes the human experience so beautiful.