Osekre’s ‘Afropolitan presents’ spoken word poet Taylor Steele

Taylor Steele performing "A man's hands".

In the lead up to his summer event series in New York, Osekre ran down his experience as a struggling musician in the city that never sleeps. ‘Afropolitan presents’ will take place again at Meridian23 this Friday, June 26th in New York. For it, we are featuring a post from another one of the participating artists, this time by spoken word artist Taylor Steele.

It was an unconditional, at-first-sight, head-first-dive kind of love I found myself in at 17. I had never met anything that made me feel so vulnerable and invincible at the same time, not until spoken word poetry. Perhaps this is an anti-climactic reveal, but for me that discovery was explosive.

I’ve always been a writer. The earliest memory I have of a poem I wrote dates back to 1995 or so, and the piece mentioned flowers and chocolate. I must have been precociously romantic at 4 years old. But I had never spoken my words aloud. Had never even really considered the possibility.

When my friend showed me videos of poets she knew performing at such infamous places as the Nuyorican Poets Cafe and the Bowery Poetry Club, I felt something awaken or open inside of me. Like, oh, hello door to a room I didn’t know existed! I remember going home after school that day and watching video after video after video, hands covered in ink trying to nail the perfect string of words into the perfect “slam” cadence. Nothing good was borne that night. I was trying too hard to sound like someone I wasn’t. And it hit me later, that the whole point of spoken word, of poetry, of any art medium at all, is being yourself. So, I turned the computer off, stopped listening to other people’s voices and started hearing my own. And out came this poem. My first real spoken word piece. I read it over and over to myself. But never to anyone else. This was my baby. And I couldn’t handle anyone telling me it was ugly. I held onto that poem for about a year.

The first time I had courage enough to perform it, I was in a room of 100 strangers, an experience that might terrify most. It was the last night of a week-long orientation for freshmen students of color. Though I had resolved to cure myself of my shyness by the time I started college, I had spoken to maybe 6 people that entire time. But, when I hit the makeshift stage that night, I felt so at home in my nerves, and in being seen and heard — a thing I had not known in my, then, 18 years.

Writing had always been such a quiet experience for me. I wasn’t just a shy person; I was introverted and living with several undiagnosed mental disorders. Survival at that time meant keeping everything to myself. This was the first time I was ever letting people into my lived experience. Granted that poem was about unrequited love, but it was a stepping stone.

So many people approached me after, telling me how talented I was and how what I wrote spoke to them and helped them to heal. That was another thing I had never considered. My art, up until that point, had really only ever been for me. I wrote to cope with my depression, anxiety and loneliness, to better understand what I was thinking and feeling. I had never considered that something I created could help someone else. After that, I joined my college’s first ever slam team, competed on a national stage, and gained more than confidence. I was truly learning who I was. Through writing and sharing.

And now, that’s all I want to do. I believe in the power of art to change, shape, and heal. I am so lucky to have found such a diverse, political, powerfully vulnerable community. I found a “safe space.” I get to be Black out-loud. I get to be hurting out-loud. I get to heal out-loud. It’s the one space I’ve found I don’t have to be afraid of everything that I am. Basically, finding my spoken word community was like getting my letters to Hogwarts, and we all get to make magic together.

Check out Taylor and a host of other exciting artists at Afropolitan presents, including fellow poet Jumoke Bolanle Adeyanju (read a great interview with her here) and our own Chief Boima, this Friday at Meridian23!

Further Reading

Independence Day

The labor and political organizing of Somali immigrants in the US Midwest should inspire more Americans to join the broader movement for worker rights and racial equality.

The two Sudans

During the Cold War, Khartoum was very successful in frustrating international solidarity, especially by other Africans, for South Sudan’s independence struggle.