Dressed in a black hoodie and jeans, George Watsky looks like any other student at the College of William and Mary. However, no other student at the College has won the Youth Speaks Grand Slam Poetry Championship, the 2006 Brave New Voices International Poetry Slam Championship and been featured on HBO’s Russell Simmons Presents Def Jam Poetry. Although there could be someone else hiding in the woodwork, I highly doubt anyone at the College can deliver a poem quite like Watsky.
If Watsky was the only spoken word poet ever heard, no one would know that, when done wrong, spoken word can sound rather ridiculous. Over-sincere poets sounding off on some topic they feel passionate about in verse can sound a little ridiculous, and can become obnoxious very quickly. However, Watsky, a recent Emerson graduate, is neither of those things. His sincerity sounds just that, sincere, and his poems aren’t exclusively serious or emotional, but also hilarious.
Watsky opened his show in Lodge 1 on Sunday, Oct. 3 with “The Lonely Hearts Club,” a poem about not wanting to go out, just wanting to be with people. Hilarious and moving, it was a perfect example of why Watsky’s brand of poetry is so excellent. He takes a personal experience, adds humor and heart, and makes it something everyone can relate to. There are no attempts to be pretentious — just a whole-hearted connection to both the subject matter and the audience. His next poem was about being grateful for the world as it is, told through a story about throwing up on himself in an airplane. Judging by the amount of laughs, applause, snaps and number of ponderous looks Watsky inspired in his audience, his poetry clearly connected to his audience in a comical yet meaningful way.
When Watsky shines most however, is when he involves the audience in his poetry. Presenting a poem to a group of people is already a very personal interaction, , but when he speaks directly to the audience, or even passer-bys, hilarity ensues. During a poem about loving a girl with every part of his body, a group of people passed through Lodge 1 in front of the stage, as people are apt to do in Lodge 1. Most performers go on and act as if there isn’t someone walking through, head bent because they too realize how awkward it is. Watsky, instead, called out to one of the girls and proceeded to “recite” for her a stanza of one of Shakespeare’s sonnets in binary code. While I am pretty sure he was simply saying ones and zeros in a dramatic manner and not any combination of numbers with actual meaning, the effect was not lost on the audience. Following this, he went on to read some newer poetry, also about love. I was skeptical of these poems at first, because part of what makes Watsky’s poetry so great is his ability to interact with the audience. He does not simply recite, but performs his poetry, adding hand motions and body movements to create an exciting piece. However, never one to disappoint, Watsky added his own personal flair to the poetry, even while reading off a page.
Watsky then moved on to poetry about serious issues, but he still managed to keep the poems personal and emotional enough that the listener felt what he was trying to convey. From talking about America seeing itself as an island to climate change, Watsky touched on some very important current political issues, and did not simply deliver a party line. While political in nature, the addition of Watson’s own deeply emotional and personal experiences added another dimension to his poetry.
The last three poems of the night were by far the best. The first, which was about being an amazing dancer — but really a terrible dancer over-compensating for lack of real talent – was a whirlwind of hilarity that left every audience member cracking up. “Drunk Text Message to God” was equally funny and used a popular phenomenon, the drunk text, to talk about religion while making people laugh and think. But his last poem, which starts off talking about having a lisp and proceeds to touch on what being normal really means – if there is such a thing – was by far the best. This piece allowed him to show off his impressive ability to speak poetically, while touching the emotions of the listeners with his perfect timing and unfailing humor.
Watksy is a voice. Not just a person with ideas, but a person with the ability to present them in a convincing manner. If he was less sincere he could be an excellent politician, but being an amazing poet is better anyway.