Mary Lambert brings new poetry to Hampshire stage

Photo by Emma Cooper ’20   Poet-singer-songwriter Mary Lambert onstage at Hampshire College.

Photo by Emma Cooper ’20

Poet-singer-songwriter Mary Lambert onstage at Hampshire College.

BY EMMA COOPER ’20

“For those of you who have not yet experienced the power and impact of her words — prepare yourselves,” said the announcer on the makeshift stage in the Hampshire College Robert Crown Center. “Mary Lambert makes you feel a lot of emotions.” On March 2, Lambert performed from her recently released book of poetry, “Shame Is an Ocean I Swim Across,” at Hampshire College’s 10th annual Five College Queer, Gender and Sexuality Conference. The Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter, musician and spoken word artist showcased her wide array of talents throughout the night by setting her poems to music.

Donning a long, flowing white dress, Lambert walked onto the stage and into the purple-pink glow of the spotlight. Immediately acquainting the audience with her sense of humor, Lambert — who lives in the Pioneer Valley — joked about her habit of sneaking on campus to use Hampshire’s tennis courts.

For her first performance of the night, Lambert opened with her melancholic but hopeful song, “Lay Your Head Down,” from her 2017 EP, “Bold.” Like all of Lambert’s performances that night, “Lay Your Head Down” was accompanied by a piano piece. Lambert sang the introduction before transitioning to the spoken word part of the piece, which began “Sometimes when I cry, I cry hard harder simply because I am crying.” Her reasons for crying, such as looking at pictures of pigs wearing rain boots or Shar Pei puppies that look like rolled up towels, were initially quite lighthearted, or as Lambert described them: “human — not due to mental disorder.”

As the giggles of the audience quieted down, Lambert’s words became more serious: “Sometimes I cry when they call me ‘fat,’ even though I am fat, because most of the time a word is just a word, until it isn’t a word — it’s a weapon,” she said. Lambert, who is open about her experiences with bipolar disorder, childhood sexual abuse and negative body image, shared a deeply vulnerable side of herself with the audience through her songs and poetry.

“I’m captivated by her work because she’s so honest in a way that’s vulnerable and real,” said Sophie Clingan ’22, a longtime fan who attended the performance. “She says things that are important but that a lot of people don’t talk about. She is unapologetically herself and honest about her weaknesses,” said Clingan. “She creates beautiful pieces of music and poetry that resonate with so many because she talks about pain and longing and love and not feeling like enough.”

This was Clingan’s first time seeing Mary Lambert perform live, after two failed attempts to attend her concerts. “I was ecstatic when I found out that she was performing at Hampshire and that the performance was free,” she said. “I got there early and went in as soon as the doors opened and got a seat at the table right in front of the stage. Seeing her perform live was amazing and definitely a dream come true.”

Towards the end of the night, Lambert announced that she would perform just two more songs. For these final songs (her hits “She Keeps Me Warm” and “Secrets”), she invited the audience to stand up and flock around the front stage for a more intimate experience. “She [Lambert] started to teach us the chorus of ‘Secrets’ but most everybody already knew it — that surprised her a little and made her feel special,” said Clingan. “It feels so awesome that a small audience like us could make her feel special because she’s so incredible to all of us.”

Currently, Lambert is working on her next album, which she is producing herself. Her latest EP, “Bold,” was her first work released after leaving the label Capitol Records and was fully funded by a Kickstarter campaign that met its goal in three days.

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