In a pitch black auditorium, a stage light illuminates a set of microphones. Where most settings would call for a guitar cradled into a corner and a drum set sits centered, these two microphones stand alone in the bask of light. Sarah Kay and Phil Kaye roll into the light’s glow, sending the audience giddy. On Tuesday, March 26 Woodinville High School had an after-hours event that was begging to be talked of for weeks. Kay, who was dressed in a flowy dress, performed for the Northshore School District last year, takes the microphone alongside Kaye, a man that has hair that matches his colleague’s attire. “Everything is possible,” they both say. Rather than this sounding cliched or even expected, the two make the words ring meaningful and full of zest.
The two have been touring the nation— and the world—teaching kids the importance and use of poetry. “Project Voice utilizes poetry to entertain, educated, and inspire.” As an operation, Project Voice has worked with students in over thirty countries. While Project Voice is essentially a poetry operation, it takes what some can find difficult or overly flowery and drives headfirst into a student population. The poets perform on stage in ways that mirror good performance theatre. Additionally, as educators, they create a workshop atmosphere which fosters creative thought and artistic expression. Project Voice simply makes poetry accessible and fun.
Sarah Kay and Phil Kaye, who take the opportunity to point out they are not related, dating, or anything more than best friends, are both Jewish and Japanese. The two have clocked over two-million YouTube views on their most popular poem which they perform in tandem. It’s not only that their last names are the same only spelled differently, the two have chemistry onstage that demands explanation. It’s more that their art is so dialed in, so expertly performed, that their dynamic feels more personal than two people at work. Kay and Kaye are both professional poets, a very rare happening. While their work has received numerous awards and has held high-praise in the poetry community for nearly a decade, their poems on stage takes the audience sweetly by the collar and demands their utmost attention. In a school district that is determined to heighten the voices of everyone, it is with glee and enthusiasm that their students can take in the progress of two young people who look like them. Kay and Kaye are young, enthusiastic, and mixed. Their voices are supremely American in the way that being American was supposed to be. They are evidence of the melting pot.
Kaye talks about his father in one poem saying, “…he is not a strong man but he knows what it means to build,” breaking stereotypes of masculinity. He looked at Kay at one moment and said, “…she is woman enough to be the best man at your wedding.”
Kay’s poems span from her own family history of Japanese internment camps to her upbringing in New York City. She shared one of her stellar poems depicting her elementary school principal dressed in a vibrantly vivid sari. At seeing a group of Indian women crossing the street, she recalls, in her poem in the voice of her younger self “… look at all those school principals!”
Kay and Kaye bring poetry to the stage but more importantly they bring it to a young audience with a hunger for artistic expression. After the show’s poems were performed, the two fielded questions from the high school kids for which they performed. Among these, students asked if it was typical to write sad poems, to feel uncertain, and how best to deal with writer’s block. Kay and Kaye, gleaming, gave sound advice. Poetry brings Kay joy because she’s able to empower young people. She and Kaye both show people how to weaponize their words; how to fight in a world where meaning what you say speaks volumes and wins.