Blythe: Poetry Saved Her Life
Poetry saved Blythe Baird's life and she's dedicated her life to saving others through poetry ever since. After being inspired through poetry to fight an eating disorder, Blythe decided to take poetry seriously. Her words are just as powerful as her testimony.
She is shaking and changing the world one line at a time and she's just getting started. Check out her interview below to learn how she works towards a greater cause through the art of spoken word.
Why did you begin writing poetry?
I started writing poetry when I was 16, turning 17, going into my senior of high school. I started writing because of a couple of reasons. The first reason is because when I was 15, I was out of school for three months. I was in rehabilitation for an eating disorder and a suicide attempt.
My first day back in school I hadn't eaten anything all day. There was something called Writer’s Week going on. Writers week is when the school lets writers come and talk to the students. I had never heard of spoken word or slam poetry. My favorite poet, Sierra Demulder, was speaking. She did this poem called Anna, about anorexia. There was a line that reads, "your body is not a temple, your body is the house you grew up in, how dare you try and bring it to the ground" and another line "Mothers of Hollywood, the red carpet, and the ten pounds the camera adds, how will your daughter ever learn to love her body if she's forced to watch you ring out yours?" It really affected me. I started taking recovery more seriously because of a poem that I heard. I thought it was amazing that poems could make you feel that—make you want to make a change in your life. I saw her perform and I thought to myself, "I want to be able to do that." I followed Sierra on Tumblr and I did not follow any other poets...I wasn't really into poetry or anything.
My junior year, I saw her post about Slam Camp. I had never been to a Slam Camp before and because I had never been, I convinced my parents to let me go. It was for a week and it was in Minnesota. It was the most impactful thing I've ever been a part of. I wrote my first poem there and I went back the following year as a camper. The third year I was too old to be a camper, so I came back and I performed poetry. Sierra became my Big Sister and mentor after that experience.
What does being a woman, a writer, and a poet mean to you?
To be a woman means to navigate the world through a lens. I also think it means to be the backbone. I think the experience of being a woman is different for all women. It's hard to define...but the common denominator is that as women we are expected to prove ourselves. We have to prove that we are relevant or worthy of being in front of a conversation in a way that boys don't have to. Boys feel like they are already validated.
To be a writer means to write daily. I asked myself every day, "Did you write something today?" Not, "Did you do something worth writing about." I think to be a writer means to look for the poetry in everything. If something bad happens, I'm able to be optimistic about it because I can form a poem out of it.
I have never seen anything like the poetry community. It is so empowering and supportive. I have never had a lot of adults and people do the same thing as me, and look out for me. The poetry community is so family oriented. The common theme in poetry is that everyone can be themselves, no matter who you are. There's not many stages for young people to speak. Uninterrupted, having the space to be heard. In general, being a poet means being someone who can take a situation and make it into something productive, even if the experience itself was not productive.
What struggles have you had to overcome and how did you overcome them?
I've had to overcome a couple of struggles, but I also have a lot of advantages. I came up in Slam Camp with mentors, learning from a lot of the top poets in the spoken word industry. Poets who are making a living off of poetry. I thought being a writer was something that you were born into—either you are good or you are not. I did not know you could learn. When I wrote my first poem, it was not good. Writing poetry is something that you practice, something that you get better at like anything else.
The number one struggle I faced was being young. I never really had to transition between the youth and adult scene of poetry. I did both at the same time. After I would perform, the adults would come up to me and say things like "that's a strong voice for someone so small." What they really meant was, "wow that's a lot of power for someone who I didn't expect to have any." They basically call me the Shirley Temple of this slam thing, which started off cute. But it doesn't leave me a lot of room to grow. Even though I've been doing this for almost 4 years now, I'm still look at as the young baby. I take comfort of being the baby and having people look out for me but at the same time it can be diminishing. It is really intimidating to go to slams with all the people that I look up to and compete against them.
I never expected to have a following or anything. It is still really weird to me. I never really tried to do that. I just like to write. I started posting my stuff online when I was in high school and I just started blowing up on the Internet. I didn't know how to deal with it. In my inbox right now I have 6000 messages from people that want advice or say things like, "because of your poem, I ate breakfast." It is so cool, but it's still really terrifying to mess up.
I also feel like I have to censor my work because of my parents. My work is really accessible online. I can't write about things that are serious to me because my mom hates it. She thinks I try to make her look bad. I can't post everything that I write. Even if I feel like it's an important piece of work, because I don't want to have my parents disown me. I am even nervous to post poems about my eating disorder. They're very specific and they talk about specific things that I did. I am conscious now, especially having other people follow me. I don't want them to take my descriptions of anorexia as an instruction manual.
What advice do you have for women who want to follow in your footsteps, women who have contemplated suicide and women who have eating disorders?
Advice I have for women who look up to me is to be your own advocate. Sell yourself, because you are your product. You really have to advocate for yourself. No one really told me what to do, I kind of just looked up to what other people were doing. I saw they were posting their work online. I saw them going to slams. So I began to be really productive and reach out to people. Also, consume art. You have to read and watch people perform poetry. Figure out what you like about other people's work and use that knowledge to form your style. I would also say write a lot and take criticism from people whose work you respect. The most important thing is to get involved in your local poetry scene. There's an app called “Slam Find” and it will show you all of the registered slam scenes and where they are. Share your work, collab with others, and post your work online. That is the best way to build a following. Write with a purpose. I didn't know what I wanted to do when I first started writing. Now I write what I want to say. I write about rape culture, eating disorders, sexual assault, feminism, sexuality, and struggles with my parents. Sharpen your message. Use your experiences to make a greater point.
To women who have contemplated suicide. You have to know that there's going to be so many more things to experience and things to see. If I had died I would not have lived to see so many amazing things. You have to know that even if things are the worse right now, in the future you're going to be able to look back. You will be able to say, "wow I experienced a really terrible thing but I can look back now and say good things grow from bad things."
For women who have an eating disorder...this is kind of hard because I still do struggle with it. What I find to be a common denominator is that people think that it is a sense of control. For me, it wasn't a sense control. It was a way for me to measure myself, to measure my worth, and what I found is that an eating disorder is a manifestation of something else. Also, I want people to know that it is still possible to recover. Recovery is really awesome. It's amazing to look at food and not be at war with it. It is amazing to not hate your body. You have to want it for yourself. So many people were trying to get me to recover it and I wasn't going to do it. I really had to come to the conclusion for myself. You will grow so much after surviving it.
What are your current goals overall – family, love, life? What do you want the world to know about you?
My current goals for my family is to be at peace with them. I get that it's hard for my mother. I want my mom to either stop reading my poems or to be at peace with her. No one can make me feel as small as my mother can, so I really just want peace.
For my love life... there's the girl I really like. My goal with her is to get the courage to tell her that I like her. I just get nervous around her, I can't speak and I usually do not get nervous around anyone.
For my life... I recently redirected my life's path. I want to be a Title 9 coordinator. The coordinator is the person the student reports to when it comes to discrimination. I've noticed that at my school they keep dropping the ball, losing cases, and forgetting to include vital evidence. I love change and I want to do a more concrete thing. I originally wanted to be an American sign language interpreter. I study creative writing sign language. I love writing and performing poetry, but I am way better at editing people's poems. So I think being a poetry professor would be really cool. Spoken word taught me how to effectively communicate artistically in a way that impacted people. I think that's a powerful tool. There's a lot of things I want to do, it's just going to be hard picking one.
Above all I want the world to know I am a very personable person. Sometimes people think I'm being fake when I'm being very genuine. I want people to know that I am genuine. I also try really hard to make people feel comfortable in a situation. I want people to know that I genuinely want to make authentic connections with people.
To learn more about Blythe visit her on Instagram, @BlytheBaird.