A Personal Experience with Katie Wirsing
On April 21, Programming Activities Committee (PAC) invited slam poet Katie Wirsing to perform her spoken word poetry for college and high school students, faculty and staff.
The evening consisted of a dinner for the performer with PAC members, a free writing workshop open to the public from 6:30-7:30 p.m. and her performance at 7:30 p.m.
Sophomore sports and exercise science major and event organizer for PAC Tamaura Shelton said this event was fairly new to the current Cameron campus.
“We haven’t done a slam poet or a poet altogether in eight years,” she said, “so we wanted to try something new.”
Starting with the workshop, Wirsing started off with a round of introductions from which she transitioned to asking the attendees to list words, phrases, sensations and experiences that reminded them of where they each grew up.
Next, she read a poem from a fellow spoken word poet about where he grew up.
Going through the imagery and devices used in that poem, Wirsing asked audience members to list their own, personal experiences that followed the poem’s style.
Those who attended the workshop then commenced writing their own poems following Wirsing’s guidance, and then shared their works with the group.
Wirsing encouraged even the most hesitant writers to share their poems with the group.
“This is a safe place,” she said. “No one is going to get mad at you for a poem you wrote in 20 minutes.”
Wirsing continued this message of vulnerability into her spoken word performance by first inviting the audience in closer – within just a few feet of the stage.
Recounting heartwarming personal stories about her love for her grandmother and her grandmother’s love of hot dogs opened up the audience to Wirsing’s unique brand of storytelling.
She then shared a bit about her history performing and how she became a nationally recognized slam poet, which included being a member of the National Poetry Slam Championship team, representing Denver at the Women of the World Poetry Slam and opening for The Miami Gay and Lesbian Film Festival.
For her first poem, Wirsing recounted her experience skydiving over Hawaii before recalling her traumatizing high school career as the only out queer person in a school of over 4,000 teenagers.
Years after she had graduated, she was invited to relive those formative years at a high school reunion.
Wirsing managed to turn around the negative experience, saying she grew past it when the former popularity queen contacted Wirsing about her rejected invitation.
“I got over 100 Facebook friend requests from people who weren’t so great to me back then,” she said. “The whole thing was bizarre really, coming full circle – the thing that caused me so much grief then now made me a kind of celebrity.”
Next, she recited her one and only love poem which she wrote about her current partner, whom she plans to marry later this year.
Wirsing then opened up about even more difficult subjects for her to talk about: her grandfather’s (and her first) funeral two and a half years ago and more recently, her father’s death just over one year prior to this event.
Despite a conflict-filled history, Wirsing said in her dad’s final years, they came to understand one another after being at odds for more than 20 years when her father attended the Denver Pride Parade as a pink-camouflaged Duck Dynasty caricature.
Some things like her father’s death she said were just too recent for her to write or perform about yet, but she offered for her final spoken word poem a story about accepting yourself through the bleakest of circumstances and hardships life dishes out.
Shelton said the event was very successful and broadened the perspectives of the audience and PAC.
“I think the event went really well. We got a different group of people in, not just the normal students that we get,” she said. “It just overall widened a lot of people’s aspects about poetry.”
Junior English education major Jessie Herrick said she embraced the message of vulnerability and love Wirsing delivered.
“I loved how she was so warm and welcoming and how she invited everybody in when she spoke about her poetry,” Herrick said. “It was a very personal experience and she is someone that I can relate to so much because of that.
“[She] just showed me that it is okay to be comfortable with people and trust people more.”