Chatham: The Marrying of Poetry and Philosophy

By Steven T. Licardi

cid-437Chatham is a diamond-in-the-rough kind of poet. Our acquaintance began like any other evening at The Muse Exchange, a local open mic at the Velvet Lounge in East Setauket. Chatham performed an erotic piece that was, in complete sincerity, incredible. I had to know who this fresh, talented stranger-poet was. I approached her and was surprised to discover she was a graduate student at Stony Brook University who, like myself, studied Philosophy. Instantly, we began engaging in discourse, discussion, and all things poetic. When the time came to choose the poets to appear at the SPARKBOOM event, I knew instantly that I wanted her to be a part of the line up. She will challenge the way you see things.

Chatham, a rather mysterious creature, is just as passionate about poetry as she is about philosophy. I wanted to know more about how she first got interested in poetry. “I grew up the youngest of three siblings by a strong distance of years,” she said, “and word-working quelled the alienation I felt from the extent to which I lagged behind my older sisters in age.” Also like myself, Poe was one of her first great inspirations.

“It wasn’t until my third grade teacher (Mrs. Whitt) read us Edgar Allan Poe’s ‘The Fall of the House of Usher’ that poetry took off for me. Poe was my first great love, and my family still teases me to this day by saying that my ideal mate will be a tall, lanky individual with dark hair and an intelligent, subtle sadness. I think they’re right.”

(My personal favorite is “The Bells,” but I digress).

Chatham’s philosophical background is evident from the opening lines of her pieces. This became only more apparent when I began to discuss her style. “I speak/read hyperbolically and intensely most of the time – I hinge on certain words, I live in them, I repeat them until I don’t want to hear them again for years. I fall in love with sentences (my own or from others) and I inscribe them as facets of my own personal mythology.” she reiterated on the relationship between poetry and the day to day grind.

“I think there’s a performance that underlies every moment in our lives, and rather than being a barricade guarding who we are or the ‘authentic,’ it’s the very condition for the possibility of authenticity or an ‘I’ at all.”

Indeed, in many of our interactions, we inevitably begin to engage in intense discussions of the nature of things, especially (big B) Being, the mark of Heidegger. “My style, whatever it may be, is the effect of both indulging in and struggling with this sentiment – that both on-stage and off, the performative can’t be escaped.”

I wanted to know what kinds of things compel her to write. As with most poets, her answer was multifaceted:

“Be it a fleeting look from across the room, Virginia Woolf’s ability to capture the complexity of a character, Audre Lorde’s unforgiving sensuality, Poe’s morbidity, my favorite memories with my father as a child, Kendrick Lamar’s verses, the tinge of Ani Difranco that stains my car speakers because we cried together so many times by way of them, a random act of kindness (or an act of cruelty), and on, and on…”

When I asked Chatham what she finds herself writing about most, we again found ourselves on a hermeneutic tangent. “Somebody once told me that philosophy is compensatory, and I believe this applies to all writing. I think the self is the biggest enigma, the inexhaustible secret, the other within myself – the question whose answer I can’t capture and therefore the thing my writing can’t let go of.” Poetry, I have often said, is the purest form of understanding – the ability, through use of precognitive language, to bequeath another person with an experience (emotionally, consciously, and spiritually). “Everything I write is an attempt to illuminate what can never wholly be illuminated,” she said, “and that’s what keeps me coming back. But that’s where the good stuff happens – failed attempts at totalizing yourself – because the immensity of what can be said is inexhaustible.”

Aside from her philosophical aspirations, I wanted to know the thing that compels her to write and perform. “Well, there’s alienation from other people and a disjunctive within myself for which writing has been the only remedy,” she revealed.

“But maybe, more importantly, poetry affects people, and it does so in ways that you can’t pre-meditate. Novelty is built into the reception of a written piece, and it is a novelty of feeling something together that isn’t necessarily (and can’t be) the same for each person.”

She further elaborated on this shared experience of poetry: “There’s an ethical implication to all of this that’s really beautiful, and it’s that non-reducible difference that has the capacity to unite people just by virtue of experiencing it together. I guess that I hope that one day some of the things I write will be able to invoke something for someone, as I know that I am continually invoked by the performative display of others.” As for what she hopes to accomplish, she added: “I just want to feel something. I want to make others feel something. That’s enough. Actually, that’s the most powerful thing of all.”

Much of Chatham’s work speaks of deep-seeded sensuality, forthright yearning, affection, and, above all, a need for connection. This became evident when I asked her to quote a bit of her own poetry. She offered:

“Graciously, upon the bone of my breast / I place the feeling of your gaze / where I can keep it best / where the weight is a burden I hold only for my breath, / a quiet masochism I carry while so immured in your depth / better left unspoken, unactualized, unaddressed / tediously, upon the bone of my breast.”

Her naked words are a metaphor for the nudity of her spirit.

Chatham’s academic and poetic work both inspire me equally and immensely. Her passion for the advancement of human intellectual thought and, further, her want of human connection comes through in the delicateness of her poetry and the trailblazing of her prose. Her work will most certainly help to frame the continuance of mankind’s relationship with itself. Expect your horizon to be broadened. Perhaps a few more colors will be added to your dawn.

Hear her words personally, in-person at SPARKBOOM‘s “Beards, Bards and BOOM” on Saturday, June 21st at the Walt Whitman Birthplace (Click HERE to RSVP).

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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Steven T. Licardi (The Sven-Bo!) is the author of “Death By Active Movement” (Local Gems Press, 2013) and is a spoken word poet, actor, artist, and public speaker from West Islip, NY. Steven uses his many projects to raise awareness of social issues, for advocacy, and as a means to educate others to be compassionate. He hosts as blog called “Cross My Heart And Hope To Write” that explores the relationship between love, beauty, and the human condition. Find out where he will be performing next at TheSvenBo.com.

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