Kara Webb sat in a yellow armchair in Pavement Coffeehouse on Commonwealth Avenue with a cup of tea in front of them. A casual passerby may not know Kara was inspired by their family to be a feminist, they have two majors, and they are the president of the BU spoken word poetry club Speak for Yourself. It may sound cliché, a poet drinking tea in a local coffee shop––but Kara is anything but your stereotypical wordsmith. They arrived at BU with game design aspirations, but after deciding they were “bad at math and coding” they turned to what was has “always been most natural” to them: English and political science. They joined Speak for Yourself as a second-semester freshman and little did they know, it would change their life.
How did you first become interested in poetry?
When I was in high school, we had a poetry unit almost every year and my senior year of high school, I actually got a chance to take a creative writing class in which we had to come up with a compilation of 26 poems we had written over the course of the class. So essentially writing those, I felt a lot of release. I wrote poetry a little bit growing up, but I was never really interested in it. Once I had to do that assignment, I kind of noticed that. It’s so much easier to express myself through poetry so I just started writing more and more and more. They believe that people think in poetry.
Why do you think poetry is powerful?
I think it’s a really interesting medium; it’s somewhere in between lecture or essay writing and songwriting. I feel like the way that people frame their work…[is] really powerful in delivery, especially spoken word. I feel like it’s really easy to garner a lot of emotion both from a performance as well as writing, and to have both of that pair so nicely with a work is really powerful. It gives a lot of people a voice who might not feel comfortable sharing otherwise. I think a lot of people think in poetry for the most part going through a list in your head not really putting anything together into something that may seem coherent…I think that’s poetry. It really comes from the heart a lot of the time and having the chance to really provide that outfit and having the chance to put your words into a platform that is so palatable I think it’s something that is really hard to come by but something I cherish really dearly.
What are some of the themes you write about?
I write about personal experiences, mainly. I try to talk about adulthood, childhood…what it means to grow up in the grandest sense of the word. I talk about sexism and feminism a lot in terms of style I guess, I try to provide more of a whimsical style about things that are a little harder to swallow, specifically about racism and sexual assault those are two really hard things that I think are really important discussions to have so that’s the theme to my poetry.
Which poets do you look up to?
So I actually look up to a lot of art authors more than I look up to poets because I don’t usually read poetry a lot, I usually just listen to it. I really enjoy Charles Bukowski’s work, I think he’s really subversive…terrible person, first off. He was just kind of really out there, but in terms of the way he manages to provide such strong imagery in a stream of consciousness prose, I think that’s really powerful [and] it’s something I try to emulate a lot. Judith Viorst is the author of Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day and she’s also written one of my favorite poems called “Money” so I look up to her a lot. I look up to Jodi Picoult a lot just in the way that her books and her stance on American culture today, I think it’s really interesting to see her bridge the gap between what we believe to be moral and a clear examination of what morals are in a certain situation if that makes sense. Her book 19 Minutes is something that sat really heavily with me, I got a chance to read a lot of her. Douglas Adams, just because he’s really funny…[he wrote] Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy so just that irreverent humor, that’s very touch and go but it resonates in a very deep way. I think that… The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is like such a broad stroke, you’re talking about the end of the world as we know it and everything around it and it’s very impactful to easily navigate that and be fresh and lighthearted, that’s definitely something I want to try for in my work, so, I think a lot about that.
Do you ever feel like poetry should be appreciated more in today’s world?
Yes, but I feel that way about most things. I think that the thing that’s really beautiful about the community built around poetry is that one of the most accepting communities I’ve ever seen because not everyone is at the same skill level…or experience level…when some people come to Speak for Yourself, people just want to hear poetry, some people have just written one poem in three years and it’s a really interesting, you know, what I consider to be interesting about poetry is that people are so open and welcoming and that’s something I consider to be really important. It’s different in the poetic community than it is in music and art, it’s not hard to be appreciated by those who do what you do but it’s hard to garner recognition and popularity through such a thing… I feel like poetry should be appreciated in the same way modern art is. It’s not for everybody; some people would rather listen to a TED talk, some people would rather listen to a song…but for those who are willing to take that step and sit down and listen or sit down and write I think that there’s a lot more to be appreciated in that sense, I just wish more people would try it.
Why is Speak for Yourself meaningful to you?
So I started my freshman year in the spring of 2015, and…it was really hard to make friends and stuff like that because you’re coming in the middle of the year…so it was really hard for me to figure out, navigate, and I almost felt like I had to catch up. I was also going to London the following semester so that made it doubly as hard to try to find friends and find a place where I fit in and belonged and was pursuing a passion outside of my schoolwork and [the last] Speak for Yourself show of spring 2015 was one of the only events I went to on campus and it was so powerful to me to see so many people not just empowered by their work but so open and focused. I knew a couple people who were speaking and thought that…wow, this person [is] a neuroscientist, this person an astrophysicist, this person a journalist, all of these people are poets as well… It’s so nice to have people with open ears willing to listen to…the words [and feelings] that I have to share…and provide support, feedback, [and] compassion. It’s something that’s hard to come by, especially passion and support. It’s so uncanny that everyone in a group, especially a student group on campus, to feel close to everyone all the time and I feel like that’s what’s so powerful about Speak for Yourself. Some people can’t come to the meetings every week, some people can’t come to the shows, but every time you see them it’s like seeing family again…there will always be a special place in my heart for people who are reaching out.
Kara is interested in self-publishing their poetry in the future, as well as pursuing a career as a lawyer. As they move on into their future, they will not forget about the positive impact that Speak for Yourself has had on their life. They feel they have made lasting friendships, and they have gained inner confidence and strength through this club. “I’ve definitely grown to be more self-aware and prouder of what I have to say,” Kara said. “I feel like having the ability to… read more critically and speak in a way that is more impactful in every moment of my life…choosing my words more comfortably so that the things that I say aren’t just things that I have to say but things that I want to say, things that I want to be understood.”