Stayin’ Alive

…A reflection on the power of poetry by Stacey James McAdoo…

Pen & ink cover for Word Up’s “From The Heart” poetry anthology in 1997 by Leron McAdoo

“Poetry didn’t save my life, it saved yours,” is a quote that has been dancing around in my head for several days now. The poet who spoke these words meant them quite literally. Had it not been for the countless hours he spent developing, drafting and delivering his words he very well would have been out in the streets up to no good and your life might have been negatively impacted or possibly even taken. The sentiment, though on the complete opposite end of the spectrum that we are accustomed to hearing, is the same: poetry is powerful, and it changes (and/or saves) lives.

I was in the tenth grade in Mrs. Milloway’s Speech Communication class the first time poetry changed my life. We were tasked with finding a poem for an oral interpretation assignment. Upon her suggestion, I checked out Maya Angelou’s book, I Shall Not Be Moved from the library and fell in love with the poem “Equality.” That was the first time that I discovered words in an academic setting that genuinely looked like and sounded like me.

It’s been 27 years since poetry stole my heart…and I don’t think she’s giving it back. Our relationship is full of compromise and is often cyclical. Sometimes she lets me get other things done and will wait patiently in the background for my spare time. But then there are those days when she’s not content with just having my heart, so she’ll seep in my head and won’t leave me alone until I entertain her.

This past week she has had my heart, my mind and all my spare time. It wasn’t enough that I lent my classroom to her for the monthly lunchtime open mic sessions with my students. Or that after a full day’s work I listened to local poets audition for a chance to perform alongside the Arkansas Symphony. Nor was it enough that I prepped students for our school-wide Poetry Out Loud Competition or that I organized the Go in Poet Youth Indie Slam (a Saturday afternoon community teen slam).  She still felt the need to dominate the conversation on our family’s 11-hour round trip drive to my son’s college dorm (for which I am thankful because poetry has a fantastic way of bringing us together).“Good morning dear sweet, beautiful, brilliant students,” is how I will begin class in less than 8 hours. “Did yall have a good weekend?” Inevitably some will say yes, others will say no.  Leaning on my broken wooden podium that needs to be replaced, I will listen attentively first to one of the “no’s.” Then offer words of condolences. Next, of the “yes’s,” I’ll ask someone to share the best thing that happened to them this weekend. The excitement and energy in the room will cause a smile to spread across and take over my face. As I scan the room of hands that are held high, I’ll lock eyes with one of the poets…offer up a head nod to let them know I am yielding the floor to them…and hope that they will talk about the slam and tell us all about how poetry once again saved a life this weekend. If we’re lucky, we might even get to hear a new poem. And if all goes as planned, I just might share one of mine entitled “One Poem At A Time”. (For a live recitation of the poem see minutes 32:44 – 34:45 of Stacey McAdoo – Finding Your Voice: Empowering Educators and Students Through Passion & Poetry.)

One Poem At A Time

© by Stacey James McAdoo

Poetry is important to me because

all I truly own are my thoughts

And while that sounds like an easily

discernable notion, it’s really not

Sometimes I have to question myself

and ask myself is this what I really think

or what I’m supposed to think

or what I think I’m supposed to think

Am I thinking this way to deliberately

make a statement or am I making a statement

because I think this way

If I believe that I’m naturally beautiful

then why do I feel so much prettier when I do

unnatural things to alter my being

like counting calories or popping pills

to lose vanity pounds

or using chemicals or excessive heat

to change the color or texture of my hair

or splashing shower gels,

oils or perfumes to disguise my scent

or applying bat feces and lip liner to

lips already naturally colored and clearly defined

or for that matter,

shaving, shaping or plucking hair

and sanding heels to feel

more soft and feminine

I read somewhere that turtles grow

to fit their environment

that “a small turtle…in a small bowl…

will not outgrow…her home”

And I wonder if any similar studies

have been conducted on humans…

specifically on little Black girls

living with the dead,

at war with themselves,

who grew up (possibly too fast)

playing hide & seek with love

until finally being tagged

Who were born, raised and educated

in little southern states

never to have made a home

outside of their birth cities

And while I am no longer naïve enough

to believe that poetry can change the world,

I am wise enough to admit that it has changed my life

And since my thoughts are all that I own,

I owe it myself to be truthful about ‘em…

to find the closest words to share them through…

to use ‘em as a negotiator/truce/seize fire

for the bulging war within

And to construct & accumulate my worth

while adding value to my life

one thought…

one word…

one phrase…

one line…

one poem

at a time.

People use all kinds of creative outlets aside from poetry to stay alive and/or maintain their sanity. Leave a comment and share yours.

*Stacey James McAdoo, the 2019 Arkansas Teacher of the Year (affectionately referred to as 2019ATOY), is a 16 year Oral Communication instructor, AVID Coordinator and sponsor of the spoken word collective called Writeous Poets from Little Rock, Arkansas. She teaches at the historic Little Rock Central High School where she is the living embodiment of her ATOY platform of using passion and poetry to close the opportunity gap.*

21 thoughts on “Stayin’ Alive

  1. As I’ve said about your children, the words to describe the emotion your words evoke simply do not exist. With what seems like an effortless nudge, they are always so relevant, and thought-provoking, one cannot simply read them and not feel something inspiring and positive. Thank you for Stacey being StillStacey.

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    1. In the tune and sound of Rod Stewart… “Have I told you lately that I love you?”

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  2. This -> “a small turtle…in a small bowl…
    will not outgrow…her home”
    And I wonder if any similar studies
    have been conducted on humans…
    specifically on little Black girls
    living with the dead,
    at war with themselves

    This was so powerful because it wasn’t until I was apart of an after school program that allowed me to see something different and travel across the country that I realized I had the power to be more than my environment. I just love this poem! Great writing Stacey!!! I’m inspired

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  3. Yassssss, this is wonderful. Poetry saves all. Thank you for writing this.

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    1. Thanks for reading and commenting! As started in the entry, poetry has definitely changed, saved and impacted my life!

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  4. Speaking as a former student and as someone whose life was literally saved by poetry, a gift that was nurtured in your classroom, it was an great experience reading this article. Brought back some great memories. And the poem at the end of course was amazing. Thank you for your inspiration and work. You have definitely changed my life.

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    1. Thanks, beautiful! You my dear are real life changer. I’m definitely a better person because of the light and love that you radiates from you. I tell people all the time that had I possessed half of your greatness at your age (or honestly even now) I would be a bad momma shut yo mouth!!!

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  5. “If I believe that I’m naturally beautiful
    then why do I feel so much prettier when I do unnatural things to alter my being….”
    You’re simply amazing, your poetry helping save and change lives one word at a time. I enjoy reading what others write about situations I might feel.

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    1. Thanks, my dear sweet beautiful Cierra for taking the time to read and respond!! I’m glad the words resonated with you. (And those lines that you pulled/quoted are some of my favorite ones and proof that I’m still a work in progress. So if you keep me lifted, I’ll do the same for you!)

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  6. Sonja Washington January 28, 2019 — 9:26 pm

    I think it was 2015 that I met a celebrity. I realized she wasnt just an ordinary kinda friend cuz she didn’t move on. I truly cherished our rides because you always made sense of madness with rational thinking. I never knew you were a celebrity, although you had all of the signs and criteria. I promise you..if I had a child it would have been in your presence so that just a little bit of you would touch and make a positive impact. Love you my friend…

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    1. Look — we gone ride together again. Even if that means I gotta figure out a way to make time stop and the world quit rotating.😉 Thank you for your friendship and your super kind words!

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  7. Beautiful as always. Your writing is very visual and beautiful. I had the honor of hearing you deliver that poem live at the Ron Robinson theater, I believe. I love it! Keep writing, keep inspiring and keep saving lives!

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    1. Thanks Coffy! They say every time you point a finger three are pointed back at you…so you do the same…and let’s both keep writing, keep inspiring and keep saving lives!😘

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  8. Wow this hit home. I love it and I thank you for using your talent and sharing it with the world. Writing is your outlet but your purpose is changing lives. You are such a transformational leader.
    Well done!
    Can’t wait to hear and read what’s next to come!

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    1. Thanks Britt! That sentence/comment about my outlet be my purpose reeeeaaalllly touched my heart. In regards to reading more, go to the home blog page, read some of my previous entries and/or click “follow” to receive notifications of future ones.

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      1. Thank you!

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  9. Reading this put a smile on my face as well in my heart because at one point I was the student who you would lock eyes with and open the door for me to share. You are a part of the reason i have a love affair with poetry, thanks for giving me the platform, confidence and freedom to express who I am sometimes afraid to be. You have such a power of pulling the best out of people including myself and I’ll always love you for that ❤️

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    1. Girl, if you don’t hush yo mouth before you have me over here crying. Actually…never hush yo mouth. I love everything you have to say. 😘

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  10. A question arises after reading about the time you discovered how words in an academic setting genuinely looked and even sounded like you…

    Are we (educators) providing opportunities, through words- whether written or spoken- for students to reflect and/or discover who they are? The development of self-identity plays such an important role with our youth in building confidence, strengthening character, and making us who we are.

    I was so happy to see this on full display when Stacey and her students came to visit our education cooperative to share and demonstrate what slam poetry is all about. After participating in a mock poetry slam with her students and teachers and specialists from southwest Arkansas, it was evident that her students had found words that helped to inspire who they are and what they believe. This did not happen by accident.

    Stacey, thank you for your continued inspiration and partnership!

    Karen Harris

    Like

    1. Thank you, Karen, for your thoughtful response. Obviously I think exploration of self-identity is important. I also know that through reflective practice, intentional questioning and the willingness to have those courageous conversation we get there even if our curriculum is lacking the appropriate representation.

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