Major: I’m Major Jackson and this is The Slowdown. This week, we’re doing something special – we’re exploring poetry in all of its forms with kids who write, rhyme and sing about their lives.
Major: Today, our co-host is Cat. She’s 16 years old, a black belt in Karate, and a rock-star performer. She also writes poetry, and workshops her writing with her friend, Olivia. They spent some time in the park the other day, hashing out a new piece she’s been working on.
Cat: So I… I want your advice on this part – it goes, “and in the dashing silence / in between the notes / of a vehement cacophony of music / me. Thank you, and goodnight.”
Olivia: I think the adjectives need some re-working… Because I feel like in such a poem, every word needs a purpose.
Major: Cat took the advice in stride. Because they trust each other. They first started working together when Cat was rehearsing the poem Ozymandias for a Poetry Out Loud competition --
Cat: I vividly remember that moment, actually, because I was like, sitting in my room, I think it was like 2am, because all the lights were off… I then started reading Ozymandias in like, the most dramatic whisper voice, because I didn’t want to wake up my sister. And then you were like, not cheering me on because you were also telling me I need to be meaner.
Olivia: Yeah I mean I feel like by the end you really nailed it though. At first I didn’t really understand that poem. But as I kept hearing it over the phone… Because I think your reading was just that effective. Your reading was way better than reading it on the page. It kind of made me understand why slam poetry is so important. Like why the reading is so influential to the meaning of the poem.
Major: And get this – Olivia’s feedback helped Cat win Poetry Out Loud regionals! Since I spend my days performing poetry on this podcast, I wanted to chat with Cat about her experience with poetry in performance.
Major: Cat, so glad you’re here!
Cat: Thank you for inviting me into the studio, Major!
Major: So, Cat. You love to perform. What do you like about it?
Cat: I really like being on stage, and I did not think that was something that I would like. I used to do volleyball. And the email came out from my teacher, and it was like “you know, come sign up for the play, it’s a life changing experience.” l… I didn’t believe it was a life changing experience… But I was like, I mean, there’s no harm in doing it, so I might as well.
Major: So I was just thinking about, when you are on stage you have to remember a lot of lines. And as a poet, I try to remember my lines. And I'm kind of okay with it. What's the trick? How do you do that?
Cat: Well, when I was preparing for the Poetry Out Loud competition at my school, I forgot that there was a second poem that we had to recite so I didn't memorize the second one. And then like ten minutes beforehand, I just took a sheet of paper, and I kept writing it down. And it worked.
Major: That’s an amazing way to memorize. The information goes from your hand… into your brain – they’re all connected! A lot of people think poetry only happens in your head! But slam poetry turns that expectation upside down for you, right?
Cat: Slam poetry for me, it kind of felt like this, in between expressing yourself through poetry and acting, which I think is really cool, because I really like acting. And then I really liked writing and I was like, this is the midpoint of those two. And I'm going to just like, take these two things that I like and slam them together and be like, this is going to be my personality now. Turns out it is.
Major: Slam them together?
Cat: I mean… I guess, yeah! I felt like I just got swept up in a whirlwind of, y’know, poetry world that I never expected myself to be in.
Major: So I heard that Ozymandias, the poem you performed for Poetry Out Loud, is also your favorite poem. I love it too! Would you like to recite it for us?
Cat: Alright, here’s Ozymandias by Percy Bysshe Shelley
I met a traveller from an antique land, Who said—“Two vast and trunkless legs of stone Stand in the desert. . . . Near them, on the sand, Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown, And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command, Tell that its sculptor well those passions read Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things, The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed; And on the pedestal, these words appear: My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings; Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair! Nothing beside remains. Round the decay Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare The lone and level sands stretch far away.”
Major: I got serious chills… Serious chills. It made me realize how sad Ozymandias is …
Cat: Ozymandias the poem has a very special place in my heart and I probably always will be obsessed with this poem.
Major: Tell me, what is Ozymandias about?
Cat: It’s a story of how this really, really great figure just gets erased eventually by time over time. Because nothing is permanent. I think that’s a really cool idea.
Major: So when you read Ozymandias at Poetry Out Loud, what was your interpretation of the character?
Cat: There are three lines. It's like, “my name is Ozymandias, King of Kings / look on my Work ye Mighty and despair.” I feel like in that moment, I am becoming my interpretation of who Ozymandias was. And I'm playing the character of Ozymandias. Like when I get on stage, I did this thing. I would call it like a power, a power stance, as my Spanish teacher would say. And it felt like it gave me more power in a way. He's like the greatest ruler to ever exist. And when I would say those lines, that's the person that I would try to be. And I think eventually, I got really, really comfortable doing that. And I really like being in that moment.
Major: Since kids and teens are taking over the show this week, we’ve decided to play a different word game every episode! And today, we’re playing –
[SFX Personal Twist!]
Major: Here’s how it works – I’m going to give you a famous line from a poem. Then, I’m going to give you different character prompts, and you’ll have to say the line as each character I list off. For example, if your line was “Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears!” I might yell – “BABY!” And you’d have to say it like a baby!
Cat: “Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears!”
Major: Amazing. You’re gonna knock this out of the park. Are you ready, Cat?
Cat: Yeah! Let’s do it.
Major: Okay, your line is – “I have eaten the plums that were in the icebox”
Cat: [sighs] This is one of the poems that my fifth grade teacher would have us read, and I completely didn't understand it. And I would sit there and be like, I'm never going to do poetry in my entire life and – here I am! (laughs) I guess.
Major: (laugh) Maybe it'll make it easier then. Now, let’s hear it as… a mouse!
Cat: “I have eaten the plums that were in the icebox.”
Major: As an auctioneer!
Cat: “I have eaten the plums that were in the icebox” Do I have one plum? Two plums? Three plums, sold!
Major: A gremlin!
Cat: Uhhh plums… “I have eaten the plums that were in the icebox” So yummy…
Major: A Disney princess!
Cat: “I have eaten the plums that were in the icebox” … I feel like I sounded like Minnie!
Major: How about a blue whale!
Cat: “I have eaten the plums that were in the icebox”
Major: Cat, you killed it! Brilliant, brilliant! You are definitely a star. Now, before we go – we’ve been asking young poetry fans around the country to send us their haikus – and we got an amazing one about Wooly Mammoths from Audra in New Berlin, Texas.
BOOM goes the mammoth. Prehistoric time travel. I'm the MAMMOTH GIRL! 🦣
Cat: Oh I love that. It reminded me of Ice Age, the movie. I don't know. That was cool.
Major: I agree! If you have a haiku you’d like to submit or feedback you’d like to share, please head to slowdownshow.org/contact and send us your thoughts.