National Poetry Month: An Ode to Def Poetry Jam

by: Tania Lasenburg


In 2002, HBO premiered Def Poetry Jam. Acclaimed and beloved rapper and actor, Mos Def hosted the show.

I was 13 years old, sneaking the television on to watch this. It came on 10 p.m. (right before Taxicab Confessions or Real Sex). I was captivated, I was moved but most importantly inspired.

Like most 13 year old girls, if it wasn’t art, it was poetry and watching adults express themselves, with the highs and lows of their voice, the movement of their hands and sometimes their tears, I wanted to be just like that. I wanted to be on that stage. I wanted to

move

carefully

but gracefully

showing how important each.sentence.was.

I wanted to stand in front of a crowd and hear the

oohs,

the ahhs,

and see the brightness of the audience’s eyes as I

pour out my soul

letting it drip from my finger tips to

fall onto the stage in a puddle

that I would then

scoop up

to drink

to remind me of the piece,

I just let go.

I looked forward to Def Poetry Jam and although my crippling fear of public speaking stopped me from standing on stage, it did not stop me from writing.

Each week, I watched; seeing Jill Scott, DMX, Saul Williams, Daniel Beaty and etc, not only joke but release something buried so deep inside them that I could feel the air shift as they spoke.

When I was 16, my father bought me Jill Scott’s first published poetry book for my birthday (I still have it) and I would write poems for people at school. Def Poetry Jam gave me the confidence to write.

It filled me with the desire to

speak.

It opened my eyes to

pain

outside of love.

It made me feel

human.

It made me feel

like my story was

worth telling.

12 years later after it last aired, I still get chills watching the Youtube videos and most importantly I still get inspired.