As an artform, Spoken Word is a catch-all term that includes standup comedy and monologues, but most often refers to poetry recited out loud. Unlike the written word, the execution of the piece aloud before an audience is a crucial aspect of the spoken word form. Voicing and being seen in one’s truth, rather than simply hiding behind written text is what makes spoken word at once a vulnerable, naked- and medicinal craft.
The word medicine has its roots in “to take appropriate measures.” During times of uncertainty, a global pandemic, isolation, economic instability and environmental crisis, cultivating an immunity and a healthy response to the stress, worry and fear that inevitably come creeping in is crucial. The impacts of sustained stress are visible, rampant and growing in our rapid- paced context. Poet and humanitarian, Lisa Shalom uses the spoken word artform to slow down and generate health and wellbeing- for herself, through her own work and performances. She also shares her tools with participants in the program she founded called, “Spoken Wordicine; Your Words are a Powerful Medicine.”
Taking the time to dive in and really examine what we might be carrying and turning our stories into art expressed in a safe container is a process that allows Shalom to perform heart surgery – not with a scalpel – but through truth-telling with compassion. Her work bridges the heart with the mind to create a deeper understanding of the internal landscape and it also connects one human to another. “When people are really in touch with themselves, they are less likely to harm themselves, others or the planet, and they are more inspired to breathe life into their bodies and surroundings.” Shalom visits educational organizations, corporate offices, conferences and seminars, offering Spoken Wordicine to diverse demographics, all similar at the core.
Using her “procedure,” Lisa Shalom creates avenues of safe vulnerability for those who could use a tune up on the insides, which actually turns out to be- everyone. She deftly creates an intentional platform where folks can air thoughts and buried secrets, creating personal catharsis while inspiring others with their words. Over her years of teaching, Shalom has collected stories of those whose worlds have been changed through her powerful technique.
She shares the story of a girl who had gone voluntarily mute due to severe alcoholism at home. By the time the girl encountered Lisa in a Spoken Wordicine workshop, she had been silent for weeks. “I was instructed never to address this girl directly so as not to put her on the spot,” she says, recounting the experience. While the girl still did not speak, it was obvious to Lisa that she was observing- and absorbing- everything going on in the workshop. During the sixth session, her fellow participants shared their pieces on various subjects that tend to arise in this work. They rapped about everything from saying final goodbyes to their grandparents, addiction, immigration, and facing bullying and harassment for being somehow “other than”. As is the case during most performance shares near the end of the workshop, the room filled with tears, laughter and a deeper understanding of each other. Lisa discreetly asked the young girl who had been silently watching the proceedings if she would like to take the chance to get up and say something. “She got up and artfully roared her truth like I have not seen a student in a classroom or a seasoned professional at a nightclub do- before or since. I get chills whenever I think about her. The air changed to the degree that she was willing to let the rawness of her truth lay itself bare, and so did her relationship to her sense of her own power.”
The young girl, no longer mute, continues to write and she sends Shalom her poetry until today.
“One boy had Crohn’s Disease and he presented a piece on how badly it hurt him to be made fun of for the odors he sometimes produced,” Lisa added about another student. “He disclosed that he had a colostomy bag, (a plastic bag that collects fecal matter outside his body,) that nobody knew was there. His poetry was a glimpse into his late-night hospital visits, physical pain and his desire to be like everyone else.” The students who made fun of him became his biggest supporters overnight. All it took was sharing his story. “The courageous authenticity, or “vulnerabravery” we must summon in order to share our stories is the real work of this process. It can be terrifying to lean in, but relief, freedom and magic lie just on the other side of the comfort zone.”
Shalom shared the story of a young girl with a hearing disorder who revealed that she smiled and nodded so often not because she was stupid, but because she couldn’t hear what was being said. Another young girl shared how her family’s home and car had been spray-painted with religious slurs. Another girl spoke of how she felt too white to fit in with the black kids and too black to fit in with the white kids. One boy used his poetry to come out as gay. When Shalom works with adults, it often results in very similar shares, only with stories that may have been buried for longer. “When we don’t own our stories, they can end up owning us,” says Shalom.
“Many participants speak on being targeted for their race, sexual orientation, weight, body type, skin tone, religion, heritage, or mother tongue. They unmask health issues, loneliness or whatever is really going on beneath the surface. On occasion, intimation of suicide or abuse come up, and the teachers and I take measures to provide support and counseling resources and we also take the time to offer love, attention and human connection to the kids,” says Lisa.
Spoken Wordicine is a method of personal or individual healing within community using art as the medium. Its potential for generating health is as great as its potential for preventing crises.
There is a perennial paradox one finds in teens in particular. Today’s teens carry a sizable amount of burden for their tender years, yet they are lacking sufficient life experience to address the slings and arrows they face. Educational systems at once demand teens to comply like adults in terms of dates and procedures, but do not often supply the knowledge or proper breathing room to first get a handle on their life situations. Lisa’s message is clear: “If poetry can become an outlet for naming the situation and letting off steam before drugs, alcohol, sex or video games become the go-to addiction, I consider my work productive preventative medicine!”
Lisa enjoys receiving poetry from former students who kept writing after their time with her has ended. “I love hearing from teachers who are incredulous that the “outcasts” or kids on the fringes who trust the process end up earning respect, developing confidence, and finding their place in the community. Maya Angelou says that there is no agony greater than the burden of an untold story. We use Spoken Wordicine as a means to lighten the load and claim our power.”
While each workshop is designed to be a safe space for all, Lisa offers a precaution. “When I teach Spoken Wordicine in high schools, I ask the kids to check-in with themselves before bringing their most vulnerable stories to the table. School can be a brutal environment and while they may wish to write poetry pieces about their deepest trauma to help them to process it, I ask them only to share aloud what they feel they could withstand having thrown back at them as a worst-case scenario.” Despite the word of warning, she finds that, “teens are thirsty for a platform to vent their innermost. Since I do encourage them to take a step out of their comfort zone, they often choose to bring their most profound challenges to the table despite the potential risk involved given the setting. And when they do, it’s because they are ready for mountains to move.”
Lisa maintains that the oral tradition is the original Wordicine. Storytelling around a campfire is one of the foundations of how we generate connection and empathy. It is the sharing of stories that builds personal confidence, appreciation and acceptance, of others and ourselves. “It should come as no surprise that walking a mile in someone’s shoes often amounts to loving them. So, it’s a natural byproduct of the Spoken Wordicine process that group dynamics should improve and that bonding and healing should occur,” she says definitively.
In watching Lisa Shalom perform live or online, we come to see how Lisa’s students are inspired to share of themselves. It’s clear that Shalom is able to provide the material she teaches as a result of a personal investment in her own Spoken Wordicine process.
Find out more about Lisa Shalom and her Spoken Wordicine Methodology and check out her work on www.shalomtoyou.com. Reach Lisa for bookings on firstname.lastname@example.org or on her socials: FB- www.facebook.com/lisababashalom or IG- @shalomlisa