It was the birth of his son in 1999 that inspired Michael Julien to begin expressing himself through spoken word.
The art form, which has roots in the Harlem Renaissance and blues music, seemed a more positive medium than the rap he'd been writing, he said.
"I needed to leave some sort of legacy for my son," Julien said. "I didn't want him to look at the negative things I'd been writing and say, 'What's this, Dad?' I needed to change my format and start writing things that would influence people in more positive ways."
Julien, 31, a New York native who lives in Chambersburg, Pa., hoped to share the hope of his art with other children besides just his son Saturday morning at a storytelling event at Contemporary School of the Arts & Gallery Inc. in Hagerstown.
He discussed spoken word before a small gathering of people. Rap is more about death, spoken word is more about life, he said.
"Rap really is poetry, too. But rap, and really so much of the music we hear, just goes in one ear and out the other. It's 'Just dance.' That's it," Julien said. "With spoken word, you pull away from the rushing and contemplate more deeply to get more knowledge, more substance."
Spoken word conveys personal sentiment or social commentary, Julien said. An untitled piece he shared was a poignant conversation with God, at once begging him and thanking him for making himself known.
"The working title for the piece is 'Reassurance,'" Julien said. "It's a big reassurance that God is always around regardless of what we think or feel."
Ron Lytle, founder of the Contemporary School of the Arts & Gallery Inc., said the storytelling event was meant to expose children in kindergarten through fourth grade to performance poetry as an art form.
A puppet show was scheduled to follow.