Three years ago, an unpublished poet from Toronto took the stage at the semifinals for the National Poetry Slam in Oakland, Calif. Sabrina Benaim was visibly nervous as she read “Explaining My Depression to My Mother” aloud for the first time, delivering the deeply personal poem in a breathless burst that has been immortalized in a YouTube video recorded at the event.
“I honestly can’t remember,” she said when asked by PW to describe the experience. “I was panicking. I was just so nervous and afraid. Her performance went viral, racking up more than 5.7 million views on YouTube and an estimated 50 million views across all social media platforms.
For the next few years, Benaim worked on a poetry manuscript and stayed in contact with the thousands of people who discovered her through the video, including young people coping with depression and parents grateful for a glimpse into a child’s struggle with it. “If you find art that you can connect with, then the artist can be available for you to say ‘thank you,’ ” Benaim says. “Because we are all really just the same. Even though we don’t know each other, we’re still going through the same stuff.” She still receives about 100 fan messages every week on social media, and spends an hour a day answering them.