Slam at the Benton: “Splinter People”

by Kelly Stoldt (2017)

Splinter People
by Kelly Stoldt

My mother has announced her worry
That living in a single dorm room is bad for me.
She asks if I’ve been socializing
If I’ve made friends
Leaves out “since the last time.”
I tell her I’ve gotten really close with my mattress
(It goes by many names and I tell her they’re all really nice)

When I make friends, I like to give them some warning.
And by that I mean
I have a tendency to attract splinter people
Who wedge themselves into my skull.
Become tweezers.
Remove themselves.
Until I am left with hole in my head.

See I fall in love the same way I used to sleep at night
Grinding my teeth so loudly my mother could hear it in the next room
I have only ever known how to be restless
To clench my jaw even on the quietest of nights
No matter how many times I’m told that the sun will rise in the morning
I will hold my breath until the sky is on fire
And then some
In case I am the one who has to put it out.

The longest I’ve gone without sleeping is 76 hours.
It’s the most routine thing I do
To wake up on the floor of my room
Dressed for yesterday.

Some days I will look at people like I’ve never seen them before
Or maybe like I am seeing them for the first time
(There is a difference).

Showers are a kind of loving yourself I am not familiar with.
And by that I mean
I really love showers
But they make me hate myself
So I stand there under steaming hot water until I forget where my bones begin.

On cold days, I am always the warmest body in the room.
I don’t know how to hold onto heat the way I’m supposed to
But I know it draws people closer to me
And I like that.

I like to confuse the past with the present
And by that I mean
Most days I disgust myself.
Most days I don’t know if I am disgusted with myself
Or the parts of him left inside me.
Most days I don’t know if it is me or the parts of him left inside me
Who is disgusted with myself.
But I do know that people are meeting Matt over and over again
When I open my mouth and everyone I’ve ever known comes pouring out.

I tell them
“Don’t feel guilty when you become what I fear most
It has more to do with what you could be than what you are”
I am always confusing time that way
Friends are just the passage of time for me
And I should probably stop looking for ghosts in everyone I meet
It’s less that I’m seeing them for the first time
And more that I’m seeing someone who I never thought I would again.

Mom wants to know if I’m isolating myself.
I tell her I am never alone
I’ve got all these ghosts living with me
Why would I ever need more?

~

Kelly Stoldt reading her poem, “Splinter People” for the Long River Review’s 2017 Reading Series: Slam at the Benton.

Ben Schultz – Videography (Filming and Editing)
Nicholas DiBenedetto – Interviews
Mairead Loschi – Podcast Audio

~

Meet the Poet: Kelly Stoldt

Prior to the reading, Poetry Editor Nicholas DiBenedetto sat down with Kelly to talk about her writing, and slam poetry in a time of political turbulence.

Nicholas DiBenedetto: Tell us a bit about yourself: who you are, your writing, and why you write poetry.

Kelly Stoldt: Well, I’m a Psychology major, and I really got interested in poetry because I found it was a really good outlet to connect with people. So rather than—especially because I want to be a therapist—trying to take things so scientifically, relating to somebody by sharing my own experience seemed to be the most effective way to help them get through things. And opening up my own experiences, especially in the mental health community, seemed to make people a lot more comfortable.

I got into poetry probably my sophomore year of high school, and I started reading and performing my junior year. I never really had a mentor, which a lot of people in performance poetry seem to, so I taught myself off of Youtube videos from Button Poetry, and it’s been something that I actually transferred to UConn to perform.

ND: Could you talk a bit more about not having a mentor? And, going off of that, do you have any poetic idols or people that you look up to or emulate in terms of the performance aspect of poetry?

KS: Most people within the poetry community that I’ve experienced—meaning spoken word or slam poetry—they had a professor, a teacher in high school, took classes, or a coach that got them into performance poetry, and that’s how they found themselves there, whereas I’ve had to seek out spaces for me to do performance. I taught myself namely off of Sarah Kay videos—she’s pretty well known—but I’ve definitely branched out, and now my coach, his name is Hanif Willis-Abdurraqib, he’s on campus coaching a few of us; he’s a really well known poet on Button Poetry as well.

ND: Is he a professor or is he someone a bit more established?

KS: He’s very established. He also writes for MTV, so he’s just a really good essayist and poet. But, right now he goes to universities and does a lot of performances, reads there, he has a book that just came out, and he works with UConn specifically because he lives in the area. I know he did a lecture at Yale about poetry, so he’s very well established and I’m very lucky to work with him.

ND: I know that you’re involved with Poetic Release and the slam poets that have this community on campus; when you think about your peers in the community, what do you think you learn from them in comparison to someone who’s more established like Hanif? Do you think it’s a different way of learning about writing and expressing yourself through poetry with the two, or do you think they overlap?

KS: It does overlap a little bit, but my peers definitely contribute to my poetry in a way that I learn a lot more outside of specifically just writing. Being a slam poet means that you’re generally in a very activist space because it’s meant for people who aren’t able to speak most of the time. It’s supposed to give a voice to a lot of marginalized groups. A lot of my peers are from various marginalized groups that I may or may not be in. I get a lot of help from them educating me so that I can use my outlet of poetry, or I’ll help them use their outlet of poetry to better articulate what they’re trying to speak and teach people about, or they’ll even correct me when I do something that’s offensive or possibly not really my area to talk about. So we support each other a whole lot, but also remain educators to each other, because we can’t know everything as poets.

ND: Given the current climate we live in, where a lot of marginalized groups might feel more threatened or uneasy just in the environment we live in, do you think it’s important to have poetry and people writing as a kind of outlet for that? Do you think it should be more of a call to action? Do you think poetry is itself a political act?

KS: I think being a poet—specifically a slam poet—is a radical act in this political climate. A lot of the viral Youtube videos from Button Poetry are about marginalized experiences. It’s a way of teaching people who are in privileged groups who’ll watch these videos and compelling them, because it’s taking them to the experience rather than giving them a lecture with statistics and whatnot. Hearing those personal accounts are really effective at educating people and getting them more involved and aware of what’s going on, because some people have no awareness of what is going on in the political climate. To get up on stage and voice your experience in that way and be very vulnerable is a political act. Signing your experience away like that for other people’s consumption is something that is very hard to do at times, but it’s really important and it provides a lot of empowerment to a lot of people.

ND: I guess as a final word: if there was anything you wanted to say to a prospective writer or a prospective slam poet, maybe someone who might be struggling with mental health issues and be interested in using poetry or slam poetry as an outlet for that, what would you say to them?

KS: I would say that all art is important. Whether or not you write it, and then a week later you hate it and think it’s awful, at one point it was really important to you to express. Some writing is meant to be shared, some writing isn’t. But keep writing, because the more that you write and that you accumulate about your experience, sometimes it means that you can shift things together to make one new piece or sometimes it just means that it needs to be put away and looked back again later. Writing is a really important outlet to be able to work through things, whether it’s personal, political, or to be shared with a large room of people, it’s really important to your own self-discovery. My own best writing always comes from something that I’m discovering about myself while I’m writing it. Just constantly writing is probably the best way that I make progress as a writer. There’s no way to really learn without continuing to do the art, and making progress in that way is probably the biggest stepping stone on the way to becoming an ‘established’ writer.

~

Kelly Stoldt is a psychology major as well as a performance poet affiliated with Poetic Release.  She’s been writing poetry for four years, loves music, and watching the UConn women’s basketball team.  She used to play on a quidditch team and is well known for her easily recognizable Kim Possible ringtone to go along with her red hair.

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