In the quiet Southside on 18th October, the lovely Bees Knees Café was home to an informal spoken word and open mic event, held by See Me as part of the Scottish Mental Health Arts Festival.
The intimate and cosy space offered respite from the cold autumn night outside, inviting us in to warm our hands with cups of tea. Debbie Sangster, See Me’s Lived Experience Project Officer, introduced the event. She explained that creating safe spaces to speak about lived experience can help dismantle mental health stigma and discrimination, See Me’s primary mission as an organisation.
The first half of the event followed a running order of three impressive performers, with themes of breakdown, recovery, and revolution filling the room. From energetic and amusing poetry to powerful, unfiltered narratives, each performance offered a unique window into the experience of living with mental illness. Backlit by softly twinkling lights, their words echoed off the wooden furniture to captivate the audience, eliciting laughter, quiet reflection, and abundant applause.
For the second half of the event, the floor was opened to the audience with an encouraging reminder that this was a safe, supportive environment. Although initially hesitant, several audience members took the mic to share their own poetry or recite the work of others, adding context to their chosen contributions with anecdotes of depression, grief, and healing.
As the evening continued, it became evident that spoken word events like these can facilitate self-expression in ways that direct conversation sometimes cannot. Although sharing poetry and personal narratives, out loud, to a room full of strangers is an immensely vulnerable experience, it generates the feeling of being understood. Many heads were nodding along throughout the evening, silently relating to what was said aloud. Using art as a means of communication be perplexing, especially when society places such high value on clear, concise explanations; art involves much interpretation.
However, an often-overlooked reality is that each individual’s subjective experience is an intricate tapestry made from brief moments of feeling, chaotically woven together in a pattern which has no clear, concise explanation. Art can climb this language barrier of self-expression, allowing a person to display their tapestry where others can observe it and recognize fragments of the very same thread that is woven into their own. As the final performance concluded, Debbie closed the event with a quote that neatly articulated this sentiment:
“Science can teach us about the mechanics of rain, but poetry can teach us about the feeling of being rained upon.”Robin Wall Kimmerer
Sarah Visser is a Talking Heads volunteer living in Glasgow. Having recently graduated with a Masters in Neuroscience and Mental Health, she is pursuing a career in the mental health field and is interested in the intersection of art, environment, and mental wellbeing.