Rachel (Fantastic) Gleason slam-dunked a victory in the March 2016 Mentally Distilled Slam. A member of the Diatribe and an accomplished singer-songwriter, comedian, activist, and poet, she regularly brings audiences to tears in recognition of both their own mistakes and their own humanity.
She writes about sexuality, relationships, parents, and societal oppression, managing to add literary beauty with every line:
“I believe in scratch off lottery tickets.
I believe in $2 crosswords with big pots and impossible odds…
I believe in hope for the sake of hoping.
I believe in the god of instinct…
I believe in the women locked up at Kent County…
walking miles and miles…
If only they could walk outside…
I believe in Stonewall… and the riots of ’69 when the bull dykes and drag queens decided that their bar had been raided, that they’d been invaded and degraded for the last time.
When the trans warriors whipped off their stilettos… as they overturned
high-top tables, sending smoking ash trays and lip-sticked beer bottles flying.”
Rachel brings her own vulnerabilities to the stage in order to move others, to help others understand, empathize, and relate. She is honest and open, and even though she might not have all the answers, she’ll take listeners on a journey to find them one by one.
“I loved that world where holy wars were waged.
In backyard dreams, I was the god of gore,” she writes in her piece “When My Philistines Were Imagery.”
Where did this confident, sexy woman get her start?
“I was always making stories,” she tells me, remembering how she started making up characters and plots as a kid. “I was probably eight or nine, and I would roller blade in the driveway… creating different characters and arguments.” She thought of the absolute “best” plotline – in an eight-year-old’s mind – and “burst inside. I said, ‘I need a pencil!’” She never set it down again after that.
Why does Rachel love poetry so much? One reason is that “poetry combines writing and performance.” Anyone who has seen Rachel perform live understands that her poems take on a whole new life and energy off-the-page, but they still carry weight and rhythm in written form. Here’s a line from her poem “Early May”:
“Today is a day for catching birds bare-handed.”
“The way I write a lot of poems,” Rachel continues, “is one thing will click in place like a puzzle piece…” Then she thinks, “I’m going to try to connect them in a story.” Sometimes that means researching her topic, such as postpartum depression for “The Ones who Chose Water,” and sometimes it means remembering a set of seemingly unrelated topics and tying them into a narrative or theme.
About that slam, which Rachel won after facing heated competition:
“I was told by several people that they had seen me perform those poems a dozen times… I can get in a performance rut, but I think I won because those nerves put me under pressure.”
Her advice for those about to slam?
“Practice, practice, practice. Run it and run it and run it. I’ve been very fortunate,” she explains, “because a lot of my work [with The Diatribe] is poetry-related. I practice in schools.” For those who don’t have that opportunity, Rachel encourages you to attend as many open mic shows as you can, especially for brand new poems. Your first live performance of a piece should not be at the slam, she advises. More often than not, you’ll mess up.
“There were also many amazing poets at the slam last time that should memorize their pieces. [Lastly], be flexible with the pieces you bring. Have four or five prepared. I was planning to do “The Ones who Chose Water” second.” Instead, she saved it for the final round, which earned her a full set of 10’s from the judges. “You have to feel the crowd,” she says. In the second round, she changed her piece to “Pipe Dreams” because most of the other performers were doing negative or angry pieces, and “Pipe Dreams” lifted the audience out of that. It gave them a glimpse of hope – and for the judges, a reason to vote.
See Rachel perform this weekend at the Mentally Distilled Poetry Slam at Long Road Distillers. If you like what you hear, grab a copy of her EP “Wander” for $5! You can also follow her on Facebook and Instagram.
For more information on the third installment of the Mentally Distilled Poetry Slam, visit the event page here: facebook.com/events/MentallyDistilled/