Hurd Sims has loved poetry as long as he can remember. Growing up, he’d read sonnets by Emily Dickinson and Edgar Allan Poe for the pure joy of it. Instead of encouragement, his English teacher berated his poor spelling and grammar.
As a young adult Sims found himself drawn to Def Poetry Jam on HBO.
“I initially thought the guy was a standup comedian,” he recalled. “But he wasn’t very funny.”
A few years ago Sims struck up a friendship with a fellow musician, Rolland Tizuela. They met when they performed together at an event at the Sprinter station in Oceanside. Tizuela was founder of the Glassless Minds Open Mic poetry slam in Oceanside, and invited Sims to come.
“I went there to listen,” Sims remembers. “I was really inspired, and my cocky self thought I could do better.”
A few weeks later he gave it a try.
“Boy, was that rough,” he said in hindsight, shaking his head. “That was the worst experience—ever. I was reading, and missing words, and butchering vowels and was so nervous.”
Afterwards, he took a workshop at MiraCosta College offered by sociology instructors, and spoken word poets, Dr. Bruce Hoskins, aka The Professor, and Anthony Blacksher, aka Ant Black.
Instead of reading someone else’s words, Sims began writing his own material.
“I was always a story teller, and good with words,” he explained. “I talked about myself, things I’d experience. I wrote a poem that was a letter to my aunt about how I wanted to be a super hero and take away her breast cancer.”
Sims practiced aloud, in front of a mirror each day for several hours. As a dyslexic, he explained that nothing he reads makes sense until he hears it.
“I looked at myself in the mirror, my facial expressions,” he said. “It was organic. Then I recited it at a normal pace. Once in my brain, it would be there for 36 hours.”
Sims had a head injury a few years ago, and said spoken word poetry strengthens his memory.
He sought out other open mic events, and participated in them twice a week for a year.
His diligence paid off when he performed his original poem, Jeepers Creepers, at an open mic at MiraCosta College on June 13.
“I had total control,” he remembers. “They loved it.”
Except for work, Sims’ entire week revolves around poetry. He cohosts the Glassless Minds Poetry Slam at Sunshine Brooks Theatre in Oceanside with friend Rolland Tizuela and competes regularly at , the and twice a year at the at .
“Hurd does a great job of engaging the audience, said Jim Babwe, organizer Moonlight Poetry Slam. “Some performers recite as if there isn't a real audience or as if the audience doesn't matter. Hurd gets up there and delivers in a way that makes the audience understand that it's part of the conversation. Instead of just sitting there to listen, the audience becomes party to an examination of ideas. He makes that happen.”
Last month he traveled to Charlottesville, N.C. to cheer on two friends competing in the National Poetry Slam. On Sept. 5 he was privileged to be invited to compete in the 8th Annual Invitational Poetry Slam at the Cardiff Library.
A baker at the Souplantation in Encinitas during the day, Sims is living his dream at night.
“At work, you’re happy, with no opinions,” he said. “On stage, I’m allowed to be myself. For five minutes I can express myself and no one can stop me.”
Sims also enjoys paying it forward by mentoring others.
“I hear people talking about writer’s block and I tell them, ‘Start living.’ I write one to two poems a week.”
Sims is happy with his life, and plans to continue his education and become a nutritionist. He harbors no dreams of going professional.
“I know a lot of young poets who want to be professionals,” he said. “I tell them that it doesn’t matter if your score is 1 or 10. If one person in the audience was touched by you, you won.
“I’m no one important, but I can touch someone’s soul. That’s what I get out of it. I eat, sleep and dream poetry. If I don’t perform, I get weird, edgy, cantankerous.”
Fellow spoken word poet Joseph Limer is a friend and mentor of Sims, and teaches political science at Palomar College.
“Many times I’ve told Hurd to use poetry as an outlet, a way to purge himself of whatever is stressing him out,” Limer said. “I think what's interesting is that for poetry to flourish in North County San Diego, poetry needs Hurd's voice as much as Hurd needs poetry.”