Q&A with Slam Poet Loyce Gayo

By Jourden V. Sander

Loyce Gayo : junior at UT, African and African Diaspora Studies major, artist and Spitshine slam poet. When I first saw Spitshine—national collegiate champions of slam poetry—perform, it was an enlightening experience. As a creative writer, poet and artist myself, I had never experienced or consumed poetry in this way before. This form of art was new to me. Wanting to know more about slamming, I did a Q&A with slam poet, Loyce Goya, and asked her to tell us her story.

How long have you been writing and performing poetry?

Before poetry, I had been a performer for a while. I was a singer and I grew up in a family of musicians. My father is a choir conductor, my mom sang in the choir, so I was raised in music. But as far as poetry is concerned, I started writing exactly two years ago. It started off as writing a poem and going to an open-mic. The first time I started slamming was when I joined the first ever Spitshine event in New York in 2013. So I started writing poetry two years ago and have been slamming poetry for about a year.

Was there someone who inspired you to begin slamming poetry?

No actually, it was quite literally these open-mics. And I grew up in Houston where poetry was introduced to me, but it’s not nearly as powerful of a scene as Austin is, so there weren’t weekly slams going on. If you ever caught a slam, it wasn’t normal, but there were a lot of open-mics and this was the first time I’d ever seen this form of art being presented the way it was. I was used to poetry being very boring and dull—the stuff you get in AP classes in high school. And then here were people who were putting their emotions out and talking about rather controversial stuff. Here are people who are using a colorful language and creativity to express such emotion. I wasn’t familiar with slam or this form of poetry with a theater component before.

Here are people who are using a colorful language and creativity to express such emotion.

What do you enjoy about poetry, written and spoken, and what does it do for you personally?

As a poet, one thing we’re encouraged to do is to speak on things that are related to us—because no one is an expert on you, except you. No one goes through the things that you do, or in your perspectives. So we’re encouraged to write things about ourselves, and sometimes poetry can be a place to hide behind: we can hide behind the stage, the microphone, and behind very skillful poetry that exemplifies love or praises this thing or that thing, and these are very safe poems, as they call them. Recently I’ve been trying out not safe poems: things that make me vulnerable to, not so much judgment, but my own feelings—things that I’m scared of.

 Recently I’ve been trying out not safe poems: things that make me vulnerable to, not so much judgment, but my own feelings—things that I’m scared of.

The most growth occurs in these moments. Some of these things are things that not everybody would agree with, not everybody be comfortable talking about—things that would not make the audience comfortable, but would make them think. These things are the most challenging to write because they require you to go to a place of vulnerability and to a place of discomfort yourself. Recently I’ve been exploring that.

How does the process of writing poetry come about for you?

The writing process for me is usually just whatever inspires me. So it may be this really nice poetry book or this really interesting article, or things that have frustrated me—I’ve read this newspaper or blog that I think is really wrong, or hearing about things that are going on in Africa or around the world—and so it’s usually an idea that sparks in my mind. And I’m a very visual person so I imagine, what does this feeling look like? And I try to describe that. As far as the way I write literally, is in the shower! I recite it over and over again and see how it sounds and how it makes me feel. That is also my memorizing process when it comes to spitting while on the team. There are also pieces like group pieces that during competition we have—these are pieces that we identify with each other and members on the team. We’ll say “Hey, I have this really cool idea,” and then we’ll start doing some writing. So we write off that and then we merge it together and see how our voices will sound together. Group pieces are pretty unique but otherwise my own writing process is just what inspires me. It’s funny that you asked me this question because our last competition that we had was in Boulder, Colorado and I took a piece that wasn’t work shopped at all, wasn’t slammed at all, but was just something that I was really feeling. I wrote it a week before the competition and put it on stage. So that was kind of unconventional and pretty interesting.

When you’re on stage, how does it feel? Are you empowered, nervous, comfortable?

So I was explaining how I’m trying to write pieces that are not comfortable, and some of these pieces are the most necessary. Some of these people who go up and say the things that people are not brave enough to say, things people are not able to say, and there’s somebody who’s putting it all on stage. So this is where it’s my moment to serve the piece and I’m always nervous. I’m always jittery and scared, I’m always “insert adjective here” on Loyce’s crashing and burning! Because of the place of vulnerability: here you are about to literally spew your heart! But it’s also the place I find most comfort in. Things just make sense on stage.Once you’re serving the piece—you’re literally a mouthpiece, this poem is bigger than you, you are just a vessel. It becomes more of a spiritual thing…it’s literally out of the realm that words can explain. At least for me it is. It’s a very spiritual event for me.

Once you’re serving the piece—you’re literally a mouthpiece, this poem is bigger than you, you are just a vessel. It becomes more of a spiritual thing…it’s literally out of the realm that words can explain.

Could you discuss some of the topics that you like to write and slam about?

I was born and raised in Tanzania and I came to America about seven years ago. My time there really affects how I view the world, and profoundly affects my poetry. So the lens I look through is the girl in a foreign land trying to make sense of these foreign lands, still yearning to go home but still trying to figure out what home means. Recently, most of my pieces have been about trying to figure all that out through writing: being so far away from home and things changing and still trying to be in touch with that. Trying to figure out how to consider myself whole in land that is constantly reminding me this is not your home. So that has been affecting my art—I’m getting choked up just talking about it. I’m going to college now, I’m getting educated, and this is something that some people, some of my close relatives, don’t have the opportunity to do. I’m getting an education and learning more about how messed up the situation my country finds itself in and trying to conceptualize how a solution would be made virtually because it’s so difficult and it’s so slow. The time difference is a huge issue. I remember when my grandfather passed away and my dad literally sent me a two line email because it was super late out there and he couldn’t just pick up a phone and call me. This was the day before school started so I had to walk into a class with a mind ready to obtain knowledge knowing in the back of my mind that my grandfather had passed. So all these different elements and struggles have profoundly affected my art. As of right now that has to be the biggest part, but also being a woman, being of color, interacting with different people—these are all different lens, or hats per say, that I try to incorporate in my art.

It’s like any other art form that tries to spark a thought, evoke an emotion, to make you think critically or differently, to make you excited about something

What do you think of poetry written or slammed as a medium of art and communication?

As much as people would like to think that all these different forms of art are different, they each convey say the same thing. I think song is poetry; I think music poetry; they really do convey the same thing. What I think is pretty interesting and unique about slam poetry specifically, is the fear component that allows the audience to really engage. When you’re watching a movie in a theater, you’re supposed to be quiet, but in slam poetry you get people to engage and it gets people to know how you really feel. I think it’s a very unique platform in that tense; otherwise,it’s like any other art form that tries to spark a thought, evoke an emotion, to make you think critically or differently, to make you excited about something—and I think all forms of art including poetry do this successfully and in varying ways.

Who is an inspiring woman in your life?

She is the definition of strength, of integrity—she’s the definition, for lack of a better word—of woman.

I have to say my mother. She is the one woman who knows all my buttons—and can push them simultaneously until I explode. She is the one woman that knows exactly how to melt my heart and make me furious at the exact same time. But she is the pinnacle of strength to me. She is the definition of strength to me. She works so hard to provide for her children. And she tries to be the best that she can, given her circumstances. And the sacrifices she has made—they are kind of amazing. She comes from a very tough background and she’s been trying to figure it out by herself, and she will never claim to be perfect, but through it all she walks with such integrity and she attributes this to a woman’s touch, you know? She is the definition of strength, of integrity—she’s the definition, for lack of a better word—of woman.She carries her woman very, very strongly. And for that I’m eternally privileged and grateful to call her my mother.

Are you working on any projects that you’re excited about right now?

I’m currently on the youth team for They Speak, which is an Austin youth team and they’re going to be sending a team out to Philadelphia for Brave New Voices. It’s the international slam for the youth, so I’m very excited about that. I was also invited to go perform poetry at the one year anniversary of Wendy Davis’ filibuster and just having the opportunity to be on the platform as this amazing politician and amazing women who are doing crazy, crazy work to ensure that the feminist movement continues and is still alive and isn’t being drowned out by all these oppressive voices…it’s an honoring experience. I’m also going to be conducting research in the fall. I’m going to back to Tanzania. I’m going to be studying micro-financing with a focus on how it affects human rights, and how I can measure this really effects women empowerment because this is something that is pitched to be empowering to women but there is really little research behind it so I’m going to go Tanzania to do research on it. I’m extremely excited.


Loyce Gayo participates in Spitshine events and can be seen performing in them. She can be followed on Twitter @LoyceGayo.
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The author

Jourden Sander is the EIC of Feminine Inquiry. She is a writer, editor, tennis player, cosplayer, and anime geek who walks her stubborn corgi. She is a feminist and a fan of hot tea. She vaguely dislikes people who won't use the Oxford comma and finds it difficult to not repetitively use pronouns in a bio. She challenges you to a street race in her Mazda 3. She says hello.

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