Though known, above all else, for her compact, poignant poetry, Cleo Wade does not consider her ongoing national tour a poetry reading. Nor does she view it as solely a performance. Wade sees each of her appearances as necessarily interactive. “Getting people into a space where it’s about taking in information and creating ideas and asking questions together with your neighbors is critical,” she said in an interview with The Daily Californian.
Wade made it clear that poetry for her is a vehicle for self-care as well as care for others. Every piece included in her poetry collection “Heart Talk” she has used in her own life. “I have found (words) to be my life rafts when the waters of the world have felt as if they were rising above my head,” she noted, pointing to her personal struggle with anxiety.
So what brought Wade to publish her mantras and affirmations, to bring these words so intimate to her own experiences into the public eye? Above all, it was a result of her drive to bring people together. “Loneliness is an epidemic that is kind of taking over our country and our world,” Wade asserted. “The world needs more love, and when I say love, I mean love as an action word,” she said. “(Love) is a transformative power, something that gives us the ability to go from tolerating someone to being in a community with them. It transforms a stranger into a friend or a neighbor into a family member.”
Hence her goal of spurring connection with and among attendees at each stop on her tour. It is meant to go beyond the virtual world —past Wade’s considerable Instagram following or her emails from fans that flood her inbox. “The online space is a jumping-off point for connection, not an answer,” she said. “If we want the real, empathetic and compassionate understanding, … then we actually have to get into the same room.”
Even before Wade emerged to lead the event, the gathering felt special. The crowd was made up of mostly women, and not a narrow demographic of women, either. Women of all shapes and sizes, ages and walks of life had come together to see the poet — a diversity in the crowd more than likely aided by the fact that Wade intentionally made the event free of charge.
Though Wade herself emerged about 30 minutes after the scheduled start time of the event, nobody seemed to mind. As the lights in the dining hall of the chosen venue, the hotel Graduate Berkeley, dimmed, the warmth of autumn candles illuminated the room. Wade took her place before the crowd and beamed a full smile. Though everybody was clearly gathered to see the poet standing before them, the evening soon felt more like an exchange than a monologue.
And yes, Wade did read a few carefully curated selections from “Heart Talk.” She gave a speech emphasizing the fact that, though self-care has become a buzzword, when understood properly it can have truly transformative effects. “Self-care is how we prove how much we love ourselves,” she said. This kind of looking out for oneself, she pointed out, “takes guts.”
“Self-care isn’t something you have but something you claim,” Wade asserted. “Nobody but you can give you permission to take care of you.”
And before long, Wade gave all those at the event an opportunity to do just that — by building a community. Wade asked her audience members to introduce themselves to their neighbor, hug them and simply chat for a few minutes. The room easily obliged. Wade then passed around a sign-up sheet on which attendees had the chance to write their emails. The intention was to form a regularly meeting group of Bay Area residents who could check in on each other and simply be together.
Wade remained in the hotel lobby for hours after the official event ended in order to speak with every individual in attendance who wanted a word with her. (Most everybody did). Wade hugged each of them, then spoke in hushed tones for about five minutes before embracing them one more time. Guests left flushed, looking elated, full of joy and hope for the potential of the new group laid out on the email list.
Wade did not leave those gathered to see her with any permanent fix for their woes; she did not wave a magic wand and dissipate their collective pain. Yet she provided tools for finding light in deep, consuming darkness, ways to share and experience love and methods of working toward hope. As Wade noted during her talk, “Hope is not magic; it is work.” Luckily, over the course of the evening, she provided a comprehensive job description.
Contact Ryan Tuozzolo at [email protected].