We are so pleased to release a spoken word piece by 2012 Curator Emily Ruth Hazel. Emily says, “‘Word of Mouth’ is a spoken word piece that echoes and expands upon the words of the Old Testament poet-prophet Isaiah, remixing with a contemporary spin the language and themes in the book of Isaiah.
Emily focused on Isaiah 55 because she felt it was “a passage that brims over with an exuberant sense of hope and possibility as well as an intimate sense of reassurance. Countering the scarcity mentality that is so contagious today, this passage reads as an invitation to engage with God and to live full lives that aren’t defined by our pasts or by our human limitations.”
Emily Ruth Hazel
“Word of Mouth” is a spoken word piece that echoes and expands upon the words of the Old Testament poet-prophet Isaiah, remixing with a contemporary spin the language and themes in the book of Isaiah. I focused primarily on Chapter 55, a passage that brims over with an exuberant sense of hope and possibility as well as an intimate sense of reassurance. Countering the scarcity mentality that is so contagious today, this passage reads as an invitation to engage with God and to live full lives that aren’t defined by our pasts or by our human limitations.
Responding to this in poetic form, my aim was to reimagine how that invitation might translate in contemporary images and colloquial language, and how it could be filtered through the lens of the American cultural context to be understood in fresh ways. I wanted to capture the experiences of everyday people working in a tough economic climate. And I wanted to convey a sense of God coming alongside us—recognizing the contributions of those who may be undervalued, acknowledging the struggles we face, and affirming that change is possible, that we can live with a sense of trust and abundance regardless of our circumstances.
While my work as a poet is often closely tied to my personal experiences as an individual, one of my goals with this piece was to explore a wider range of perspectives—including but also reaching beyond my own—to reflect our shared human experience. At the same time, I tried to envision God’s perspective on relationships with people. The creative risk in writing a piece that would essentially put words in God’s mouth felt weighty at times, as did deciding how to translate the tone, but I enjoyed the challenge of pushing past some of the traditional assumptions about God’s interactions with and attitude toward people. I wrote this piece with the hope that listeners would be able to find at least a part of themselves in it. Yet it is also a reflection of the speaker: as a person’s character is revealed through his or her own words, this is meant to be heard as a series of verbal paintings, a collective portrait of a surprisingly approachable, deeply relational, and radically generous God.
Following the themes of Isaiah 55, I have kept the imagery of different forms of water flowing throughout the piece—although I have incorporated many other images as well. Water speaks of refreshment and restoration, which tie into the themes of thirst and hunger (physical, emotional, and spiritual) and transformation of landscapes (both natural and internal).
The process of writing this piece was a little bit like reupholstering a chair: trying to preserve the beautiful, old frame (i.e., the essential concepts in Isaiah and the feeling of the language in certain places) but also taking some liberties in updating it with a contemporary color and pattern. I didn’t want the fabric of the new piece to completely clash with the preexisting parts. My hope is that the infusion of the new may encourage more people to sit in these words awhile and to appreciate the continuing relevance of the original text.
“Word of Mouth” was inspired primarily by Isaiah 55, but Ms. Hazel also drew from other passages in the Old Testament with similar themes.
Other Passages Incorporated:
2 Chronicles 7:13-15
[Words and phrases were borrowed from a few different versions of the passage: the New International Version, New King James version, and The Message, (contemporary paraphrase, in colloquial language).]
Emily Ruth Hazel is a New York City-based poet and writer whose work wrestles with themes of relationship and faith. As a believer in poetry that feels accessible and lived-in, she aims to capture the beauty, hope, and humor that can be found in everyday experiences.
Emily enjoys cross-pollinating with musicians, dancers, actors, visual artists, and fellow writers, and she has performed her work solo and collaboratively at numerous events. She has been awarded a Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Prize in a national competition for emerging poets, and a collection of her poetry, Body & Soul (Finishing Line Press) was published as a finalist in the New Women’s Voices competition. Her poetry and prose have also appeared in Deep Waters (Outrider Press), Brown Alumni Magazine, Brio, The Mochila Review, The Francestown News, RedeemerWrites, and Creating Space.
A graduate of Oberlin College’s Creative Writing Program, Emily has led creative writing workshops for youth at schools, libraries, and community centers in Massachusetts, Ohio, New York, and South Africa. She mentors underserved teens through Girls Write Now, a nonprofit dedicated to nurturing the next generation of women writers. Also a freelance editor and a visual artist, she lives on the border of Brooklyn and Queens.
This work is copyrighted by Emily Ruth Hazel and shown here by permission. If you are interested in this or other work by Emily Ruth Hazel please Contact Us for assistance.
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