PROFILE George Watsky was 15 the first time I saw him perform one of his poems. The venue was an afternoon open mic at the Stanford Jazz Workshop, a one-week program that immerses teens in the art of jazz. I was 14, and was impressed and charmed by Watsky's fast-talking savvy. That the last line included the word "fuck" made the poem a crowd-pleaser to the teenage audience.
The following year, Watsky the San Francisco lyrical prodigy was back with another captivating poem. The one he read that summer was "Halflife," in which he expressed the insanity of what it means to call oneself half-Jewish.
"I forgot Passover last year and the year before that /and I just found out Yom Kippur existed / and I guess it wouldn't be such a bad thing if I weren't Jewish/ ... well, half Jewish,/ when I see that half-and-half is cream and milk/ two shades of white combined into a condiment that no one wants to drink just by itself/ Then I'll start to homogenize my culture and my time/ But no religion can envision claiming even half my mind."
Over the last five years, that poem stuck with me. And I wondered: what happened to George Watsky?
Turns out he mastered the art of spoken word, becoming the 2006 Youth Speaks Grand Slam Poetry Champion, a winner of Speak Green for his poem "Carry the One," and a performer at spaces ranging from the Herbst Theater to the Apollo.
Watsky delivers each poem in a fast rant, but lets the last words of his stanzas linger for effect. His spoken word technique intermingles with his everyday speech, a quirk I found amusing when I reunited with him for an interview. He has crafted his spoken word style over the years, but his speedy delivery comes naturally. "I think it started because I talked too fast out of a sense of nervousness," he says.
Since the release of his 2006 book-CD Undisputed Backtalk Champion (First Word Press), Watsky has been collaborating with friends Max Miller-Loren and Daniel Riera. On his next recording, he plans to integrate music into his poetry (after all, he was a drummer at Stanford Jazz). Currently Watsky brings spoken word to colleges across the country while earning a degree at Emerson College. Thanks to a set up with Auburn Moon Agency, which pays for his travel to various universities, he has a compact schedule.
In performance, Watsky might mutter one moment and abruptly yell poetic verse with great passion the next. One of his best-known pieces is "V for Virgin," which he performed on the Mos Def-hosted HBO show Def Poetry. "This poem is for every high school virgin who wouldn't have it any other way!" he announces, revving up for a signature rampage: "It's time to reclaim the high school virgin as sexy<0x2009>/ I'm talking damn, that's some sexy peach fuzz sexy<0x2009>/ and I'm definitely talking check out the curves on that parabola sexy<0x2009>/ and understand that at least one dorky white boy from the 415 knows that's the sexiest arm he's seen in his entire sexy life!"
Watsky's virginal pride poem and physical appearance have led many to see a connection between him and a certain Michael Cera. On his Web site, he even posted an entry titled "Declaration of Beef with Michael Cera."
I ask Watsky about his online brawl with Cera. "Michael Cera's a punk," he says with a laugh. "Off the record, it's a joke. On the record, it's not game at all! I walked to my car the other day, and these people were like 'It's you, it's you!' and I was like, 'Oh that's cool, you watch Def Poetry Jam?' And they're like, 'No, the kid from Superbad.'"
For more good times with Watsky, check out his Web site, or MySpace, Facebook, or YouTube pages. The kid's pretty easy to stalk, and he'll keep you updated on his next creative endeavors.