Healing with poetry: Student takes on the Phoenix slam poetry scene

Megan Atencia uses art to heal, one poem at a time.

“I’m twenty-two, and I found poetry this year. Rising out of the ashes, a sinner still jacking off across the street from my church, but not exactly begging for forgiveness because I’m trying self-love in this city, and it’s taught me so much.”

The excerpt above is from ASU student and slam poet Megan Atencia’s poem “The City Lives."

Atencia found poetry at ASU when she enrolled in a slam poetry course offered last spring. Originally a pre-med student, Atencia decided to switch to a double-major in global health and English literature after discovering her talent for writing.

She is driven with a need to help people, a quality she found easy to do through spoken-word poetry.

Although her passion for poetry is a fairly new addition to her life, Atencia has always been an artist. As a songwriter, a self-taught pianist and guitarist and a singer, Atencia is no stranger to performing. Her strong background in music helped her transition into the world of poetry.

“I always equate poetry to when you listen to a song, and you hear that really good bass line that your heart starts beating alongside with,” Atencia said. “That’s what spoken-word poetry does as well because there is a unique moment every time. It’s never the same crowd, the artist is always in a different space, and so every single time something unique happens.”

Atencia said she finds her inspiration for her poems in her daily life and the lives of those around her.

Some of the things that I have been struggling with is like, 'How is my story important?'" she said. "I'm still trying to carve out how I want to process all of that — Emphasis on the day to day life, how every day is a struggle, but every day is still beautiful.”

Best friend, roommate and writing-partner Sophia McGovern describes Atencia’s poetry as “brutally honest.” 

“It's strength is in how tender it is," she said. "So it is basically an extension of Megan herself. The things that she tackles are her place in the world, so whether that is her sexuality as a woman, her sexuality as an Asian-American woman, being put into boxes she doesn’t want to be in; whether it is her faith, her depression, her outlook on life. It’s any strings of her identity that she can pull on.”

One of Atencia’s teachers, a professor of English, James Blasingame, commented on the technical aspects of Atencia’s poetry.

“Megan is very accomplished at the intricacies of meter, rhyme and these little internal schemes that slam poetry has that traditional poetry for the page doesn’t have," he said. "You have to know what you’re listening for to recognize the brilliance in Megan’s poetry. A lot of the time, I think that when you listen to slam poetry, you get carried away in the emotion and you don’t know why, but the language affects you.”

In the beginning, Atencia said she had a difficult time finding a community to help support her passion.

“I took the slam poetry class, and I was disappointed in the scene that I found here," she said. "I was like, ‘I need to get into this, and I need to do more with this because this is an art form that I love and I don’t understand why it is dying around Phoenix.’ The hardest thing about the slam community is that you have to know who is in the know and then somehow get to be in the know as well.”

Atencia described the slam community in Phoenix as inconsistent, something that she and other slam artists are trying to change.

“I think that people have been frustrated over the last couple of years of not seeing anything, and they’re like, ‘Okay, we need to get something done here,’" she said. "I think [the slam community] is growing more. I think it’s still kind of slumbering, like it needs to be woken up. Like, the sun has just risen and we need to figure out what we’re doing. ASU is putting on a lot more spoken-word events, which is really exciting. There have been a lot of open mics that have been going on, but now they’re starting to focus it more on specifically spoken-word poetry.”

Atencia’s perseverance has not gone unrewarded. In almost a year since Atencia began her life as a poet, she has embedded herself into the slam community not only at ASU, but around the Valley as well.

Atencia performs her poetry around the Valley at open mics, art festivals and slam competitions. She is an active artist on InstagramFacebook and Twitter, she has her own website. She will be introducing her own YouTube channel in December.

Atencia is currently doing a series of poetry workshops at a local mental hospital where she works with adolescents, using poetry to heal.

“My ultimate goal is to be a teaching artist,” Atencia said. “To use poetry to help people, but also to help people with their craft as well. A lot of these kids just live in their heads or they just write. But something different happens when you express that out loud. It’s probably the most healing thing, to express that out loud .. With my poetry. I always want the message to be: There is hope. Or at least authenticity. And that is what everyone is searching for.”


Reach the reporter at sgibbybr@asu.edu or follow @sckyrayne on Twitter.

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