Phil Kaye, the only two-time recipient of the National College Poetry Slam award, opened his performance in Whitley Auditorium Thursday evening by explaining how he began to write his poem, “Surplus.”

The Liberal Arts Forum at Elon University brought the award-winning poet to campus for a spoken word performance as the first event of the spring semester.

“I am not a strong boy, but I am trying to learn what it means to build,” Kaye said.

He then introduced himself to the audience.

“I’m going to tell you some stories — some bad jokes. All I want you to do is sit back and relax,” Kaye said.

Kaye did not hold back on the expletives. He often assumed a specific character throughout the performance, whether that was himself or the Geico gecko.  But not all his poetry was light and humorous — he addressed serious issues, too. In one poem, “Repetition,” he addressed some of the challenges he encountered during his parents’ divorce.

He spoke about how his mother taught him to repeat something enough times and, eventually, the words or phrase would lose their meaning. He said the same is true in life.

“They whispered to each other ‘I love you’ so many times over that they forgot what it meant,” Kaye said.

Kaye also took questions from the audience.

“Those poems are really deep, and I was like, ‘What?’” said one student in the midst of asking a question. 

Kaye laughed and said he wished he could put the quote on his website. 

He also addressed his relationship with poetry and explained why he found it to be a rewarding career.

“It’s a humbling art form,” Kaye said. “There’s always more work to be done. There’s always farther to push yourself.” 

Jessica Bilecki, education and outreach coordinator at the Office of Sustainability, said she loved the performance. She noted that many small aspects of Kaye’s poems resonated with her.

“I think there were a lot of little parts,” Bilecki said. “That’s sort of how my brain works. It won’t remember specific words, but I remember feelings.”

Freshman Jackie Pascale said the performance was relevant for college students.

“I thought he was really relatable,” Pascale said. “I thought he got on our level.”

Earlier in the performance, Kaye mentioned that he often performs for younger elementary students.  But, freshman Olivia Hays noted the content of this performance was more appropriate for older audiences.

“It seemed like he had been waiting to perform these poems for college students,” Hays said. “I think this was kind of a chance for him to take advantage of it.”

Hays also acknowledged Kaye’s animated performance and his ability to draw on personal experiences, while also adapting to the various moods of the poems.

“I think his facial expressions — the way he talked about his grandpa — [were] different than the way he spoke about his daily writing,” Hays said. “It was nice that he shared that with us.”

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