If I should have a daughter … | Sarah Kay

If I should have a daughter … | Sarah Kay


If I should have a daughter, instead of “Mom,” she’s going to call me “Point B,” because that way she knows
that no matter what happens, at least she can always find
her way to me. And I’m going to paint solar systems
on the backs of her hands so she has to learn the entire universe before she can say, “Oh, I know that
like the back of my hand.” And she’s going to learn that this life will hit you
hard in the face, wait for you to get back up just
so it can kick you in the stomach. But getting the wind knocked out of you is the only way to remind your lungs how much they like the taste of air. There is hurt, here, that cannot be fixed
by Band-Aids or poetry. So the first time she realizes
that Wonder Woman isn’t coming, I’ll make sure she knows she doesn’t have to wear
the cape all by herself, because no matter how wide
you stretch your fingers, your hands will always be too small to catch all the pain you want to heal. Believe me, I’ve tried. “And, baby,” I’ll tell her, don’t keep your nose up
in the air like that. I know that trick;
I’ve done it a million times. You’re just smelling for smoke so you can follow the trail
back to a burning house, so you can find the boy
who lost everything in the fire to see if you can save him. Or else find the boy who lit
the fire in the first place, to see if you can change him. But I know she will anyway, so instead I’ll always keep
an extra supply of chocolate and rain boots nearby, because there is no heartbreak
that chocolate can’t fix. Okay, there’s a few
that chocolate can’t fix. But that’s what the rain boots are for, because rain will wash away
everything, if you let it. I want her to look at the world through the underside
of a glass-bottom boat, to look through a microscope at the galaxies that exist on the pinpoint of a human mind, because that’s the way my mom taught me. That there’ll be days like this. (Singing) There’ll be days
like this, my momma said. When you open your hands to catch and wind up with only
blisters and bruises; when you step out of the phone
booth and try to fly and the very people you want to save are the ones standing on your cape; when your boots will fill with rain, and you’ll be up to your knees
in disappointment. And those are the very days you have
all the more reason to say thank you. Because there’s nothing more beautiful than the way the ocean refuses
to stop kissing the shoreline, no matter how many times it’s sent away. You will put the wind
in win some, lose some. You will put the star
in starting over, and over. And no matter how many land
mines erupt in a minute, be sure your mind lands on the beauty of this
funny place called life. And yes, on a scale
from one to over-trusting, I am pretty damn naive. But I want her to know
that this world is made out of sugar. It can crumble so easily, but don’t be afraid to stick
your tongue out and taste it. “Baby,” I’ll tell her, “remember,
your momma is a worrier, and your poppa is a warrior, and you are the girl
with small hands and big eyes who never stops asking for more.” Remember that good things come in threes and so do bad things. Always apologize when
you’ve done something wrong, but don’t you ever apologize for the way your eyes
refuse to stop shining. Your voice is small,
but don’t ever stop singing. And when they finally hand you heartache, when they slip war
and hatred under your door and offer you handouts on street-corners of cynicism and defeat, you tell them that they really
ought to meet your mother. (Applause) Thank you. Thank you. (Applause) Thank you. (Applause) Thanks. (Applause) Thank you. (Applause) All right, so I want you to take a moment, and I want you to think of three things
that you know to be true. They can be about whatever you want — technology, entertainment, design, your family, what you had for breakfast. The only rule is don’t think too hard. Okay, ready? Go. Okay. So here are three things
I know to be true. I know that Jean-Luc Godard
was right when he said that, “A good story has a beginning,
a middle and an end, although not necessarily in that order.” I know that I’m incredibly nervous
and excited to be up here, which is greatly inhibiting
my ability to keep it cool. (Laughter) And I know that I have been waiting
all week to tell this joke. (Laughter) Why was the scarecrow invited to TED? Because he was out standing in his field. (Laughter) I’m sorry. Okay, so these are three things
I know to be true. But there are plenty of things
I have trouble understanding. So I write poems to figure things out. Sometimes the only way I know
how to work through something is by writing a poem. Sometimes I get to the end of the poem, look back and go,
“Oh, that’s what this is all about,” and sometimes I get to the end of the poem and haven’t solved anything, but at least I have a new poem out of it. Spoken-word poetry is the art
of performance poetry. I tell people it involves creating poetry that doesn’t just want to sit on paper, that something about it
demands it be heard out loud or witnessed in person. When I was a freshman in high school, I was a live wire of nervous hormones. And I was underdeveloped
and over-excitable. And despite my fear of ever being looked at for too long, I was fascinated by the idea
of spoken-word poetry. I felt that my two secret loves,
poetry and theater, had come together, had a baby, a baby I needed to get to know. So I decided to give it a try. My first spoken-word poem, packed with all the wisdom
of a 14-year-old, was about the injustice of being seen as unfeminine. The poem was very indignant, and mainly exaggerated, but the only spoken-word poetry
that I had seen up until that point was mainly indignant, so I thought
that’s what was expected of me. The first time that I performed, the audience of teenagers hooted
and hollered their sympathy, and when I came off the stage,
I was shaking. I felt this tap on my shoulder, and I turned around to see this giant girl in a hoodie
sweatshirt emerge from the crowd. She was maybe eight feet tall and looked like she could
beat me up with one hand, but instead she just nodded
at me and said, “Hey, I really felt that. Thanks.” And lightning struck. I was hooked. I discovered this bar
on Manhattan’s Lower East Side that hosted a weekly poetry open Mic, and my bewildered,
but supportive, parents took me to soak in every ounce
of spoken word that I could. I was the youngest by at least a decade, but somehow the poets
at the Bowery Poetry Club didn’t seem bothered
by the 14-year-old wandering about. In fact, they welcomed me. And it was here, listening to these poets
share their stories, that I learned that spoken-word
poetry didn’t have to be indignant, it could be fun or painful or serious or silly. The Bowery Poetry Club became
my classroom and my home, and the poets who performed encouraged me to share my stories as well. Never mind the fact that I was 14. They told me, “Write about being 14.” So I did and stood amazed every week when these brilliant, grown-up poets laughed with me and groaned their sympathy and clapped and told me,
“Hey, I really felt that too.” Now I can divide my spoken-word journey into three steps. Step one was the moment I said, “I can. I can do this.” And that was thanks to a girl in a hoodie. Step two was the moment I said, “I will. I will continue. I love spoken word. I will keep
coming back week after week.” And step three began when I realized I didn’t have
to write indignant poems, if that’s not what I was. There were things
that were specific to me, and the more that I focused
on those things, the weirder my poetry got, but the more that it felt like mine. It’s not just the adage
“Write what you know.” It’s about gathering up
all of the knowledge and experience you’ve collected up to now to help you dive into the things
you don’t know. I use poetry to help me work
through what I don’t understand, but I show up to each new poem with a backpack full
of everywhere else that I’ve been. When I got to university,
I met a fellow poet who shared my belief in the magic
of spoken-word poetry. And actually, Phil Kaye and I coincidentally also share
the same last name. When I was in high school I had
created Project V.O.I.C.E. as a way to encourage my friends
to do spoken word with me. But Phil and I decided to reinvent
Project V.O.I.C.E., this time changing the mission to using spoken-word poetry
as a way to entertain, educate and inspire. We stayed full-time students,
but in between we traveled, performing and teaching nine-year-olds to MFA candidates, from California to Indiana to India to a public high school
just up the street from campus. And we saw over and over the way that spoken-word poetry cracks open locks. But it turns out sometimes,
poetry can be really scary. Turns out sometimes, you have to trick teenagers
into writing poetry. So I came up with lists.
Everyone can write lists. And the first list that I assign is “10 Things I Know to be True.” And here’s what happens,
you would discover it too if we all started sharing
our lists out loud. At a certain point, you would realize
that someone has the exact same thing, or one thing very similar, to something on your list. And then someone else has something the complete
opposite of yours. Third, someone has something
you’ve never even heard of before. Fourth, someone has something
you thought you knew everything about, but they’re introducing
a new angle of looking at it. And I tell people that this is
where great stories start from — these four intersections of what you’re passionate about and what others might be invested in. And most people respond
really well to this exercise. But one of my students,
a freshman named Charlotte, was not convinced. Charlotte was very good at writing lists,
but she refused to write any poems. “Miss,” she’d say,
“I’m just not interesting. I don’t have anything interesting to say.” So I assigned her list after list, and one day I assigned the list “10 Things I Should Have Learned by Now.” Number three on Charlotte’s list was, “I should have learned
not to crush on guys three times my age.” I asked her what that meant, and she said, “Miss,
it’s kind of a long story.” And I said, “Charlotte, it sounds
pretty interesting to me.” And so she wrote her first poem, a love poem unlike any
I had ever heard before. And the poem began, “Anderson Cooper is a gorgeous man.” (Laughter) “Did you see him on 60 Minutes, racing Michael Phelps in a pool — nothing but swim trunks on — diving in the water, determined
to beat this swimming champion? After the race, he tossed
his wet, cloud-white hair and said, ‘You’re a god.’ No, Anderson, you’re the god.” (Laughter) (Applause) Now, I know that the number one
rule to being cool is to seem unfazed, to never admit that anything scares you or impresses you or excites you. Somebody once told me it’s like walking through life like this. You protect yourself from all the unexpected miseries
or hurt that might show up. But I try to walk through life like this. And yes, that means catching
all of those miseries and hurt, but it also means
that when beautiful, amazing things just fall out of the sky, I’m ready to catch them. I use spoken word to help my students rediscover wonder, to fight their instincts
to be cool and unfazed and, instead, actively pursue being
engaged with what goes on around them, so that they can reinterpret
and create something from it. It’s not that I think
that spoken-word poetry is the ideal art form. I’m always trying to find
the best way to tell each story. I write musicals; I make short films
alongside my poems. But I teach spoken-word poetry because it’s accessible. Not everyone can read music
or owns a camera, but everyone can communicate in some way, and everyone has stories
that the rest of us can learn from. Plus, spoken-word poetry allows
for immediate connection. It’s not uncommon
to feel like you’re alone or that nobody understands you, but spoken word teaches that if you have the ability
to express yourself and the courage to present
those stories and opinions, you could be rewarded with a room full of your peers, or your community, who will listen. And maybe even a giant girl in a hoodie who will connect with what you’ve shared. And that is an amazing
realization to have, especially when you’re 14. Plus, now with YouTube, that connection’s not even limited
to the room we’re in. I’m so lucky that there’s
this archive of performances that I can share with my students. It allows for even more opportunities for them to find a poet or a poem
that they connect to. Once you’ve figured this out, it is tempting to keep
writing the same poem, or keep telling the same story,
over and over, once you’ve figured out
that it will gain you applause. It’s not enough to just teach
that you can express yourself. You have to grow and explore and take risks and challenge yourself. And that is step three: infusing the work you’re doing with the specific things
that make you you, even while those things
are always changing. Because step three never ends. But you don’t get to start on step three, until you take step one first: “I can.” I travel a lot while I’m teaching, and I don’t always get to watch
all of my students reach their step three, but I was very lucky with Charlotte, that I got to watch her journey
unfold the way it did. I watched her realize that, by putting the things that she knows
to be true into the work she’s doing, she can create poems
that only Charlotte can write, about eyeballs and elevators
and Dora the Explorer. And I’m trying to tell
stories only I can tell — like this story. I spent a lot of time thinking
about the best way to tell this story, and I wondered if the best way was going to be
a PowerPoint, a short film — And where exactly was the beginning,
the middle or the end? I wondered whether I’d get
to the end of this talk and finally have
figured it all out, or not. And I always thought that my beginning
was at the Bowery Poetry Club, but it’s possible
that it was much earlier. In preparing for TED, I discovered this diary page
in an old journal. I think December 54th
was probably supposed to be 24th. It’s clear that when I was a child, I definitely walked
through life like this. I think that we all did. I would like to help others
rediscover that wonder — to want to engage with it,
to want to learn, to want to share what they’ve learned, what they’ve figured out to be true and what they’re still figuring out. So I’d like to close with this poem. When they bombed Hiroshima, the explosion formed a mini-supernova, so every living animal, human or plant that received direct contact
with the rays from that sun was instantly turned to ash. And what was left
of the city soon followed. The long-lasting damage
of nuclear radiation caused an entire city and its population to turn into powder. When I was born, my mom says
I looked around the whole hospital room with a stare that said,
“This? I’ve done this before.” She says I have old eyes. When my Grandpa Genji died,
I was only five years old, but I took my mom
by the hand and told her, “Don’t worry, he’ll come back as a baby.” And yet, for someone
who’s apparently done this already, I still haven’t figured anything out yet. My knees still buckle
every time I get on a stage. My self-confidence can be measured out in teaspoons mixed into my poetry, and it still always
tastes funny in my mouth. But in Hiroshima, some people
were wiped clean away, leaving only a wristwatch or a diary page. So no matter that I have inhibitions
to fill all my pockets, I keep trying, hoping that one day I’ll write a poem I can be proud to let sit
in a museum exhibit as the only proof I existed. My parents named me Sarah,
which is a biblical name. In the original story, God told Sarah
she could do something impossible, and — she laughed, because the first Sarah, she didn’t know what to do
with impossible. And me? Well, neither do I, but I see the impossible every day. Impossible is trying
to connect in this world, trying to hold onto others while things
are blowing up around you, knowing that while you’re speaking, they aren’t just waiting for their turn
to talk — they hear you. They feel exactly what you feel at the same time that you feel it. It’s what I strive for every time
I open my mouth — that impossible connection. There’s this piece of wall in Hiroshima that was completely burnt
black by the radiation. But on the front step,
a person who was sitting there blocked the rays from hitting the stone. The only thing left now is a permanent shadow of positive light. After the A-bomb, specialists said it would take 75 years for the radiation-damaged
soil of Hiroshima City to ever grow anything again. But that spring, there were
new buds popping up from the earth. When I meet you, in that moment, I’m no longer a part of your future. I start quickly becoming
part of your past. But in that instant,
I get to share your present. And you, you get to share mine. And that is the greatest present of all. So if you tell me
I can do the impossible — I’ll probably laugh at you. I don’t know if I can change
the world yet, because I don’t know that much about it — and I don’t know that much
about reincarnation either, but if you make me laugh hard enough, sometimes I forget what century I’m in. This isn’t my first time here.
This isn’t my last time here. These aren’t the last words I’ll share. But just in case, I’m trying my hardest to get it right this time around. Thank you. (Applause) Thank you. (Applause) Thank you. (Applause) Thank you. (Applause)

100 thoughts on “If I should have a daughter … | Sarah Kay

  1. I seriously considered Jumping into a plane to meet her..get on my knees .. and ask her to marry me…..Until fear talked me Out Of It ….. Again…😎

  2. “This world is made of sugar, it can crumble so easily but don’t be afraid to stick your tongue out and taste it”
    This line is so true I love it

  3. I remember watching in my middle school English class a few years ago and being so moved. I’m rewatching this now and it’s even more inspiring.

  4. Can someone please explain what she means when she’s talking about the boy in the fire? I’m trying to find the meaning behind it

  5. bruh who else is doing poetry out loud? lowkey i cant even remember 3 lines and my teachers expectations are this lmao

  6. ok i’m pretty sure i just realized that i went to one of her workshops when i was like 10. wish i would have like actually used that to get into poetry.

  7. I was so engrossed in her talk until the office-pan in 11:46 rolled around and broke me out of my reverie. Curses. Anyway, beautiful poem, gorgeous heart, scarecrow charisma. I especially love how most spoken word poetry are quite literal and direct in their narrative – easy to enjoy.

  8. YEARS ago she came to speak at my school. I don’t even know I fi was attending at that time, and if I was is was super small.

  9. My life feels immensley changed … and now i see all that i have not become … but was maybe meant to become. I understand now for the first time ever that my path has been so far from my spirits potential all my truths all my ?____? Were so hidden I forgot I had any. but now I can see something of who i thought i would be a long time ago before the detours before the demons before the surrender before the fall before I fell from view of my own everything before my decisions weren't mine anymore before I freely handed them to expectation and accepted my or expected nothing of my self and self isn't the right word it's so hollow I need a word that means more than self and I am heartbroken that I can not even come up with a synonym that feels worthy of the word I don't yet know it's a longing that I feel replacing every want I have ever had and the importance of finding this word is greater than any need I have felt in my soul I know that it's a beginning but the brokenness I have become is trying to dissuade me from my quest I haven't written any poems or let ideas like this escape me since I was 17 ish and I'm ashamed and in love and scared and bewildered at my own emptiness my faults are vast and innumerable the emptiness was devouring me whole and yet I feel like years have shrunk to weeks and decades to hours and failures to hiccups and somehow I know these towering weights drowning me for years and years are not going to consume me and in this very moment I have never felt so far from each of them so free from everything every single thing … Is this peace? Is this freedom is this real?! Sarah Kay I think you saved me from being numb from being none from being something I was never meant to exist as. You are now forever a moment of change in my life that I will never forget. I found this video for a reason or it found me or I don't even understand but I feel like I can breathe I feel like I can be. I feel like I can. I feel. God directed me here and I needed to hear this hear you and I am terrified to my core but so amazed and so grateful I am not lost and I'm not vanquished I'm here and I will not be the same I will fight I will be. I will be.

  10. I'm a Japanese student studying English. I cannot count how many times I have watched this video but every time I watch it I find new discoveries in it. So I will continue to come back here. I love it not only as an English learner but also as a Japanese poet, and as a human being.

  11. Life is beautiful, but Sarah makes it more beautiful.. Spoken word poetry is something I really cherish and I cherish it the more now ❤️❤️

  12. The first time i got to see this video, I couldnt keep myself from rewatching. Even downloaded it 8 yrs ago. Even memorized Point B. She seems like a very open minded, non judgmental person. My heart is touched by her poems and keeps coming back for more. I hope i have her prowess and talent. Very good speaker. Inspirational.

  13. I have watched this video at lest 10 times over the years of 7th to freshman year and I fucking hate this dumbass video

  14. “and she’s gonna learn that this life will hit you hard, in the face. waiting for you to get back up just so it can kick you in the stomach, and getting the wind knocked out of you is a way to remind your lungs how much they like the taste of air” 👏🏻👏🏻

  15. She said I'll close with this poem and I looked it was past 15 minutes, I was like how is this possible?! She literally just started speaking!

  16. I think its amazing that she'll teach her daughter that her gender doesnt define her, that what's between her legs wont constrict her or categorize her into boxes she doesnt want to be a part of. I think its amazing that she'll teach her that labels can be pulled off and flung away, no matter how many are stuck on to her, and no matter how many she is forced to accept. But most of all, I think its amazing that she'll teach her that chocolate and rain boots are the cure for everything.

    i got a tad carried away but 😂😂

  17. “And she’s gonna learn. That this life, will hit you. Hard. In the face. Wait for you to get back up just so it can kick you in the stomach. But getting the wind knocked out of you is the only way to remind your lungs how much they like the taste of air”

    -Sarah Kay, aka the BEST poet I’ve ever seen.

    This is my favorite quote from her. She is so inspirational!

  18. in 8th grade my english teacher showed my class this video, i’m now graduated and still come back and watch this every now and then bc i love it so much. 🥰

  19. Her way of expressing those poems make them even more beautiful.
    I'll be performing my 1st spoken word in 7 days. I hope I can do at least 1% of the magic she does. 😀

  20. I watched this first in 2015 and it's so beautiful that years later, I am watching and understanding everything she said better. Sarah Kay is super talented.

  21. I heard part of her poetry/speech in a song (2:08). Such a great juxtaposition of optimism and realism…

  22. Just finished her book of poetry "No Matter the Wreckage"
    Her poetry is stunning and beautiful weather live or on paper. She is an inspiration to us all.

  23. thank you Sarah Kay for telling us to fly courageously despite all the hurt we get in life. This way, we can truly live full out.

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