Buddy Wakefield is demolishing notions of what an emotional man can be—one poem at a time.
“I could have swore that you sung me a love song back there—and that you meant it—but I guess some people just chew with their mouth open.”
Buddy Wakefield isn’t your stereotypical slam poet. If you still associate that bastion of free expression with bongos, disconnected metaphors or overemotional beat-aspirants, then let him show you different.
A Louisiana-bred performance poet, he’s made his name competing in international poetry slams, opening for Ani DiFranco and touring with the Poetry Revival series. He’s been featured on BBC, NPR, HBO and a whole load of other important acronyms. But none of that tells you the real work he gets done.
Buddy is a hurricane. He’s sometimes frightening, a blinkless, aggro troubadour who I once saw yell at the audience for cheering before he got through a poem (“you don’t know if it’s good yet!)—not exactly the obtuse, pretentious beret’d hipsters that many people have misguidedly come to associate with the performance poetry scene. There’s a host of compelling, fresh voices that could show you different, but Buddy, that old world preacher, is one of the best.
But more important than all that, Buddy is a good man, talking about honest experiences with frenetic intensity. To say it simpler, Buddy is not afraid of being emotional in his work—he just does it different. He understands that we need men to talk about their emotions, and while there’s nothing wrong with breaking down on stage, that’s not the only way they can show their words are sincere. In a world where most men think they’re weak if they talk about their heartache, their quiet implosions, Buddy exemplifies the brave grace it takes to lay yourself bare, and he does it without apology, without tears. This is honest, he tells his audience, and honesty is what we need most.
The best way to explain is to let him speak for himself, here in one of his greatest pieces, “Hurling Crowbirds for Mockingbars.” I saw Wakefield perform this live at the 2009 Brave New Voices, an international youth poetry competition. It’s an incredible, imagistic meditation on love ripped out of you still bleeding, a big ol slice of “oh-shit-that’s-exactly-how-it-feels.” Once again, he captures our everyday explosions—our heartbreaks, our career boredom, our epiphanies so pure and realized you don’t know how you didn’t see it sooner.
If you want to hear it live, Wakefield just announced he’ll be hitting the road again this August with Anis Mojgani, another favorite on the performance poetry circuit. Find out more at his website. He’ll be touring all year.
Photo: “Hurling Crowbirds at Mockingbars” by Buddy Wakefield, recorded at the Elephant Engine High Dive Revival, NYU, 2009. Video from speakeasynyc.