By M. Scott Morris
Tupelo resident Henry Roop discovered something about his daughter during a trip to Chicago.
She’d suggested that he go to a restaurant called The Green Mill. During his visit, there was a spoken word poetry event going on. That’s where poets stand in front of a crowd and a live microphone and deliver their lines.
“The emcee, he came around and was greeting people,” Henry Roop, 57, said. “He asked me where I was from and asked me about my accent. I said, ‘My daughter does a little bit of poetry.’
“He said, ‘What’s her name?’
“I said, ‘Lacey Roop.’
“Man, he couldn’t believe it. He really just got all excited, then I couldn’t believe it.”
In the world of spoken word poetry, also known as slam poetry, Lacey Roop is a big deal. Plug her name into YouTube to get a sample of what she does all over the country.
The Tupelo native, who now lives in Austin, Texas, will bring her talents to Northeast Mississippi for Art-er Limits: Oxford Fringe Festival in August. She’ll perform at Southside Gallery at 7:30 p.m. Aug. 1, and sign copies of her book, “And Then Came the Flood,” at The White House at 4 p.m. Aug. 2.
Her voice has been described as “gravel-and-honey,” and her lines are meant to get a visceral reaction from the audience. She wants people to feel what she has to say.
“I think I naturally take on some sort of persona. I think it is something that comes over me when I perform,” Roop said during a phone interview from Austin. “I don’t use any special stage name. Some people have a name that they use when they perform. I just use my own. I just read my work the way I want to read it.”
Her work can be sweet. It can be confrontational. Maybe the best descriptor would be eye-opening. Roop’s work is about perspective, about looking at the world in new ways, old ways, neglected ways.
Here’s a bit from “Gravity of Stars”:
For the sky has nothing in it as interesting as the diversity on this earth.
That is why I don’t care anymore about flying.
There is a reason the stars keep falling.
They are jealous of the things we get to see
by just being here–
Roop, 27, is a 2005 alumna of Tupelo High School. She mostly steered clear of creative pursuits in her hometown, and studied business at Mississippi State University before leaving for Austin, where she once again signed up for business classes at the University of Texas.
That was her first exposure to spoken word, and without having taken a poetry class, she started putting words together, memorizing them and sharing them with a crowd.
“Then I came to the realization that the business world wasn’t the world I wanted to spend the rest of my life in,” she said.
She switched to English and studied creative writing and fiction.
“The funny thing is I never took a poetry class,” she said. “I sometimes guest lecture at universities on poetry. It’s pretty funny but pretty gratifying.”
Roop also writes short stories and children’s stories, but for the most part, she makes her living as a poet. The business degree probably would’ve been better for her bottom line, but as her dad knows, people are learning about Roop around the country. More importantly, they’re hearing what she has to say.
“Technology plays a huge role in everything.” she said. “A lot of the interest in my work can be credited to YouTube. People put it up there. I don’t put it online.”
Her poetry has been taught to high school and university students, and she’s traveled across Texas, and given performances and/or lectures in New York, Colorado, Michigan, Kansas, Oklahoma, Arizona, Utah, New Mexico and more.
“Universities, when they book me, will fly me out,” she said. “I’ll do a reading and a workshop.”
She also attends poetry slam competitions, puts on solo shows and collaborates with others. She recently worked with a Grammy-nominated group.
“I was very nervous because they were acclaimed singers and musicians,” she said. “I was commissioned to write a piece to be the skeleton of the performance.”
Her schedule is generally dependent on the university schedule. Summers are slow, which can be a good time to write. She’s the type of person who usually produces more work with a deadline than without, but Roop also appreciates the chance to write during relaxed times, when she feels more free to explore.
This selection from “What’s so Crazy about Having Waves in Your Veins?” might offer a glimpse into her process:
In the wind there are words I have a hard time catching,
but I’m trying my best to grab ‘em
and keep ‘em in my pocket
so when I get home I’ll have more poems to write and stories to tell because
everyday is a new chance to look at the same things differently.
To stand with no umbrella in the rain
because the rain is just the sky
wanting to touch you.
Listen to the birds and crickets chirping away
because everything with sound has a song to sing
and anything that breathes has something to say
There was a glaring omission from the list of states where Roop has performed. Her upcoming event in Oxford will be her first in her native state.
“A lot of my work is about growing up in Mississippi,” she said, “so my work is influenced by Mississippi and the South, definitely.”
Roop isn’t exactly fearless when she gets on stage, though it’s hard to tell from watching her. That persona she puts on comes across as confident and sure.
“I think the nerves help me a lot, instead of distracting me,” she said.
The August trip stirs the butterflies more than usual, because downtown Oxford is within easy driving distance for family and friends.
“I think it’s easier to perform for people I don’t know, as opposed to performing for people I do know,” she said.
But as her dad found out in Chicago, Roop is a professional poet with a national reputation. Her work will see her through.
This is from “The Parts of Humans that Science Can’t Explain”:
I tell him,
I’m not sleeping I’m dreaming –
There’s a difference.
I ask him if he dreams and he tells me that there isn’t enough time for that
when we have work to do.
So I take out my pen and paper and I draw him what I dream;
it is people who sleep in rainclouds, pass out more smiles than business cards,
and find beauty in the broken things.