10 Questions with THON Talent Show Winner David Gaines
Spoken word poet David Gaines stole the show at THON’s Got Talent, claiming first place over two musical performances that gave the poet a run for his money. Gaines’ three poems, one of which was about losing his sister, Angel, struck a chord with the audience, helping him win over the crowd. We talked to David and gave him the Onward State 10 Questions treatment to learn a little more about his art, and what he loves about THON.
Onward State: Who do you thon for?
David Gaines: The Espinozas and the Bonners with Futures. We’re a smaller THON org.
OS: How did you start with spoken word poetry?
DG: It all started out, as it always does, with trying to get girls. I was trying to write sappy love poems for girls and then it just grew as a form of expression. I figured out that not only can I express my affection for girls through poetry, but I can talk about things that are going on with my family, or with me and my insecurities and my failures and successes. It started out as kind of a means to an end but now it’s my way of putting myself in the world.
OS: What are some things that inspire you the most for your poems?
DG: Stories. I love hearing people’s stories. You would be surprised, people act like they don’t go through things, but they have a lot of stories, their failures, their successes, I’m just a kid from Philly, I have my experiences, but there are kids who aren’t even from the same country who have such different experiences. It just makes me think, ‘Wow, what is that like?’ and I try to put that into words. But also [some poems are about] things about my life, and things that I’ve been through personally. A part of me is always in my poems, it doesn’t even have to be a story about me, but I try to put a part of myself in it.
OS: What’s your favorite part of performing?
DG: It’s the energy, people are gracing you with their time and their attention, and that’s the hardest thing to get from people, their attention. You’ve got so many things trying to distract you out there, so for ten minutes, 15,000 people gave me their attention, and it’s incredible. And I just like sharing my story, so when people come up to me and talk to me about my sister and how I inspired them and comforting me and telling me my sister would have liked that, that means so much more than anything else. Just knowing that I inspire people… that’s the best thing about performing.
OS: Are you involved in any groups on campus that do spoken word poetry?
DG: I’m involved with a group called W.O.R.D.S. which stands for Writers Organized to Represent Diverse Stories, and if you think I’m good, those writers there are fantastic. They’re all completely different styles… but there are just people who blow my mind with their stories and the way they present their stories. We meet at Tuesdays at 8 p.m. in 206 Hammond and I perform a lot at open mics and events, but I always perform under the group W.O.R.D.S. because we’re like a family.
OS: What was it like to perform for everyone at such a huge event?
DG: I was so nervous, if you saw me behind the stage I was walking around pacing and on my knees praying, just trying to get through it because being vulnerable is never easy, but being in front of thousands of strangers, I just wasn’t sure I was ready for that. But fortunately, I have so many people who love me and support me, and I’m sure I could have gone out there and completely bombed and they still would’ve supported me. Also knowing that anytime I perform — I can only give myself — I just give David Gaines in everything I do. Once those calmed my nerves, feeling all the energy and my friends in front, feeling their energy and seeing all those smiling faces, it was all in the zone from there, the rest is history.
OS: What’s your favorite part of THON?
DG: Obviously the final four is in a league of its own, it really ties THON together, so that has a special place in my heart, but there’s just something about the bonds you form with the people you THON with. You’re in pain together, you’re feet are burning and you want to sleep, you’re achy, but they’re aching too, you’re aching together, and all that pain together creates this unity. That’s my favorite part because then we leave here and we’re just like ‘What do we do, I want to see you all the time now!’ so we hang out more, and I love making new friends so that’s just awesome.
OS: How much did it mean to you to win the talent show?
DG: It means everything. It’s one thing to be able to put yourself out there and be vulnerable, but it’s another having people respect that and respond to that. It restored my faith in humanity, because people respect me, and even when I tell that very vulnerable story, they paid attention. I couldn’t hear it, but apparently it was very quiet, and it really meant a lot. It felt like people cared and I felt supported and loved. The other guys who performed also killed it, so I thought ‘Wow, maybe I can do this, maybe I’m better than I think.’ It was a good confidence boost and also a good confirmation that people respect my ability. It’s just awesome.
OS: Do you plan to defend your title next year?
DG: Oh, if they’ll have me, absolutely. I’m always down to perform, whether it’s at THON, or little open mics with just five people, I’m there. I’ll be back, bring it on. I’m hoping I inspire more poets to come out and perform at THON. But I’m always down for competition, it’ll be really cool.
OS: Per Onward State tradition, if you could be any dinosaur, which would you be and why?
DG: I used to want to be a T-Rex, but then the arm thing threw me off because there’s so many things you can’t do. I think I’d want to be a pterodactyl, because they’re really big and they can fly, and that’s my thing, I’d love to fly.