In a dimly lit Student Union Theater of just over 20 people, spoken word performer Katie Wirsing gave her audience a mix of personal anecdotes and poems in a controlled, yet vulnerable performance Thursday evening, which was organized by SUBOG.
Wirsing, a former member of the 2006 National Poetry Slam Championship team, has had her work featured on NPR, BBC and has acted as the opening act for the Miami Gay and Lesbian Film Festival.
Though Wirsing encouraged her audience to engage in her poems with occasional “hell yeah’s” and claps, they instead quietly applauded her at the end of each one and were more focused on letting her words speak for themselves.
Wirsing’s astuteness came from both her poems and the stories she told in between them. These ranged from humorous tales about disagreements she had with her conservative father to him dressing up as a “really gay Duck Dynasty guy” at a gay pride parade.
One particularly memorable story Wirsing told involved her telling a high school acquaintance that she couldn’t make a reunion – only to be written about in a post on Facebook and referred to as essentially her high school’s “celebrity lesbian.”
“I didn’t know whether to be offended or excited,” Wirsing said to the loudest laughter of the night.
Not all of her stories were optimistic though; and Wirsing herself talked about dealing with painful breakups, harsh memories of being an adolescent and family conflicts.
“Shame is the sharpest knife in the kitchen,” Wirsing said, referring to being “one queer student” in a high school of more than a thousand people, being ideologically at odds with her parents or even getting her religious grandmother to accept her.
Many of her pieces referred to her self-realization about her emotions. Her strongest performance of the night came from a poem she wrote about dealing with her father’s death, which Wirsing said she sometimes didn’t perform out of discomfort.
“We hear stories sometimes of people who come out of grief with such clarity and energy,” Wirsing said, mentioning how she expected to become a more driven and hopeful person after learning about her father’s cancer coming back. She paused for a moment before stating that wasn’t what happened at all.
“Mostly I feel very sad and feel shame for not doing grief right,” Wirsing said.
However, Wirsing said it isn’t always essential for people to react to things in the same way. She added that often people think of their emotions as negative, metaphorically putting them away in a box and ignoring them rather than confronting their fears and feelings head on.
“Has anyone here ever been to therapy?” Wirsing asked, receiving no commited responses, though a few people in the back raised their hand just slightly up from their lap before quickly putting them down. “Well, clearly some of you should go,” she said, met by nervous chuckles.
The theme Wirsing stressed all night was self-acceptance – and in the most fitting way to end her performance, she had a few key words for students to remember, including that it is better to be honest than to be liked.
“One of the hardest things we do in life is figure out where we meet ourselves,” Wirsing said. “In the end though, we all deserve love.”