Michael Lee: Addiction, Loss and Pedicures

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Laura Green ‘18
Arts Editor

When Michael Lee, a spoken-word poet from Minneapolis, takes the stage, you can immediately see he has a huge store of energy and warmth. When he starts performing, Lee transforms that energy into a powerhouse of emotion and intensity. Combine his gravelly voice and deeply personal subject matter, which requires a whole host of trigger warnings, and you get a raw, captivating performance. Lee performed spoken-word at Vocal Expressions presented by the student events committee.

The student opener Katherine Keenan ’19 started off the night by reading her poems aloud for the first time. She is a natural performer that brought such sincere feeling to her words. Keenan discussed love and running into an ex on her hometown in a relatable, beautiful way.

When the tattoo-covered Lee took Keenan’s place on stage, he also performed a few poems about lost love, vividly describing what it’s like to lie silently in bed with your love for the last time. The bulk of his poems, however, work through issues such as addiction, violence, loss and suicide. “I don’t have a gun because I’d use it,” he writes. Lee makes jokes between poems, significantly lightening the mood. It’s amazing to watch him transition between these moments of humor and grief; the audience sees all sides of him.

Lee mentioned that he didn’t always make jokes during sets. At first, he didn’t realize how heavy his work was. Lee recalls watching his mom sobbing and his sister inching towards the bar as he performed. “I need a Gandalf poem or something!” Lee said.

The crowd got a glimpse into his organization skills as Lee dropped papers onto the stage, searching for the second half of a poem. It adds credence to the idea of artistic genius and chaos going hand in hand.

Lee is in the process of changing his subject matter a bit. “I’m tired of writing about my dead friends,” said Lee. “I need to give them and me a break.” In this break, Lee has turned to the topic of “whiteness” in some of his recent pieces. In one poem, he draws eloquently draws connections between a “whiteness of swans” and “White Flight.” It’s clear that he sees the artist as changemaker in this day and age. He says that artists shouldn’t be separated from their actions outside their art.

Lee is almost equally passionate about parking meters in Massachusetts. It surely makes his list of societal changes. “I have 17 outstanding parking tickets! I don’t even live here.” He swears parking meters pop up out the ground after he parks. Other life struggles include not kicking his pedicurist as she buffs the bottom of his foot. That doesn’t stop him from returning, however, as he shouts out to his friend in the audience, “Let’s get pedicures this week!”

Having spent an hour and a half listening to Michael Lee, I feel like I really know a lot about him. I know that he loves homemade chocolate chip cookies more than anything and that one of his friends died when he was 13. I know that the loss of his friends to addiction is sometimes the only thing stopping him from drinking whiskey. Lee is unafraid to show himself as he is, the good and the bad.

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