No matter the venue, the size of the crowd, the state or country, Torontobased poet Sabrina Benaim shares with strangers what many aren’t comfortable telling their closest friends.
“For 25 years I didn’t say any of those things. I kept them all to myself — and in turn didn’t feel like I had a lot to offer the world,” Benaim said. “Now it turns out sharing those deep secrets that I was so ashamed of is actually the thing I have to offer.”
Benaim’s poetry takes a no-holdsbarred approach to anxiety and depression. In a holdover from her days as a competitive slam poet, she speaks with a cathartic, heightened sense of rhythm, as if he she’s attempting to cleanse herself, or at least begin to cope with these ailments. It’s a remedial experience for her listeners.
“For the most part I just feel like I’m telling the truth,” Benaim said.
Saturday at Lansing’s Robin Theatre, she begins her latest trek across the United States, dubbed the “Slumber Party Tour.” Her set, among other topics, will further explore the personal mental health issues she’s already familiar with, but this time more intimately. If you’ve ever had a slumber party with friends and spent the later hours discussing your feelings, you’ll understand the vibe Benaim is aiming for.
“I’ve really enjoyed having more intimate settings that give a little room for the audience to be a part of the show, be a part of the experience,” Benaim said. “So I think ‘Slumber Party’ was really fitting, because everyone can kind of feel comfortable while we really dive in and have some intense poetry chats.”
Benaim’s career took off after a performance of her poem, “Explaining My Depression to My Mother,” at Canada’s 2014 National Poetry Slam went viral on Facebook and YouTube, with 76 million and 7.5 million views, respectively, on each platform. In the video she’s frenetic, shaking as she recites lines like this: “But my depression always drags me back to my bed, until my bones are the forgotten fossils of a skeleton sunken city, my mouth a bone yard of teeth broken from biting down on themselves — the hollow auditorium of my chest swoons with echoes of a heartbeat.”
The spotlight proved invaluable for the poet.
“I think it’s important to not only note the success from the obvious, ‘I wrote a book and I’m touring,’ standpoint, but also the success derived from the fact that people want to come to my show and actually listen to what is kind of a nice way of talking about mental illness,” Benaim said.
Benaim’s original intentions were to carry on as a writer, but the resounding positive feedback has kept her primarily on the stage. Still, she penned a book running through themes similar to her spoken word poetry, “Depression and Other Magic Tricks,” in 2017.
As for how Benaim is able to share such deep inner thoughts to strangers, she said it’s all about imagining her audience as a group of new friends. Oh, and there is a little bit of a literal aspect to the “Slumber Party” tour:
“I hope everyone brings blankets and pillows and just gets comfortable.”
Sabrina Benaim Slumber Party Tour $15
6:30 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 24 Robin Theatre 1105 S. Washington Ave., Lansing www.therobintheatre.com (989) 878-1810