The power of passionate poetry

Carrie Rudzinski offers a feminist perspective

by Kavita Shah / Beacon Staff • November 20, 2014

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Carrie Rudzinski took a notebook to her senior prom. She took a notebook to a friend’s wedding. She takes a notebook with her everywhere.

Rudzinski, an Emerson alumna, is a poet, artist, and filmmaker who has performed her work globally since graduating from the college in 2009. Though she currently lives in Los Angeles, she returned to the Cantab Lounge in Cambridge on Wednesday, Nov. 19 to perform as the week’s featured poet for the Boston Poetry Slam series.

Rudzinski said that she performed her first show at the Cantab in fall 2005 after being introduced to the venue through her interdisciplinary Poetry and Performance class.

“That class is the reason I’m a professional performance poet,” said Rudzinski. “It literally changed my life.”

The class was taught by professor Elizabeth Whitney, who now works at the College of New York at the Borough of Manhattan Community College. Whitney said that students were initially required to memorize and perform pieces from a performance poem anthology, then eventually had to perform a piece of their own.

“Carrie is such a strong person with a vibrant energy,” said Whitney. “She had enthusiasm for the subject but also brought so much joy into the work through her own personal passion for performance.”

Rudzinski said she joined two slam teams at Emerson and tried to start an unofficial slam poetry group on the Health and Wellness floor of Little Building. She said that some meetings were held in her dorm and others in the common room, but all consisted of readings and a conglomerate of aspiring slam poets.

“We were never a recognized organization, just friends that were interested in the same thing,” said Rudzinski. “Poetry for me wasn’t a profession, it was just who I was supposed to be and what I was supposed to be doing.”

Though Rudzinski studied visual and media arts at Emerson, her avid pursuit of poetry outside of the classroom led her to co-found Emerson Poetry Project in 2008. 

After her first performance at the Cantab, the venue became a home away from home for her. She said she attended almost every Wednesday night for the next six years. She said she still keeps the notebook she held in her shaking hands that first night.

“It was terrifying to be on stage, but I immediately wanted to do it again,” she said. “It’s like the first time getting a tattoo. I knew I was going to get another one.”

Rudzinski said she bases her work off a combination of personal experiences and responses to public dialogue. Overarching themes of her work have varied through her growth as an artist, she said, and include travel, heartbreak, sobriety, rape culture, and feminism. Because of the controversial subjects, she said she inevitably faces criticism, particularly online, but takes pride in offering up her experience as a 27-year-old feminist woman.

One of Rudzinski’s poems, titled “For The Men And Women Who Have Called Me ‘Sir,’” reflects an ongoing struggle in her own life, ever since she cut her hair short during her freshman year at Emerson.

“I’ve been wearing knee-high boots and a peacoat and have still been called ‘sir,’” said Rudzinski. “People aren’t paying attention.”

Whitney said that, as a feminist herself, she appreciates the way Rudzinski talks about gender and identity by tying it into a larger cultural narrative.

“She writes about societal expectations and the ways we as feminists are constantly trying to resist them while also recognizing that expectations make resistance and empowerment possible,” said Whitney. “She writes incredibly powerful pieces.” 

Senior Bobby Crawford, former slammaster of Emerson Poetry Project, said that he first met Rudzinski at the Individual World Poetry Slam in Spokane, Washington and his first impression of her was that she was a very formidable person, competitively and as a poet.

 Crawford said Rudzinski is interesting to watch as a body performer because she uses unique motions and intonations.

“There are a lot of different ups and downs in the tamper of her voice that give her a good command of the stage,” he said. “She never sounds choreographed. It’s like watching a journey on stage.”

Whitney said that this strength comes from Rudzinski’s ability to immerse herself entirely in her work.

“Her performance persona is so strong and so committed,” Whitney said. “She fully emotionally and physically commits to her work and being very present in that moment.”

Despite her success in the “poet life,” as she called it, Rudzinski decided last year to settle down in Los Angeles and immerse herself in the film industry to return to her college-acquired expertise. She said she continues doing poetry because it was always a dream of hers.

“I never thought that poetry was going to pay my bills,” she said. “I went to art school and I know what it’s like to be told you’re not going to make any money by following your dreams but you can. It just takes self-preservation. You create the life you want to.”