Prepare to have your greatest fears fleshed out before your eyes.

Get ready to insist on getting your pronouns right, to question stigmas associated with race, sexuality, gender and mental health.

Prepare to be more aware of the dire consequences of silence.

The following progressive poets use the medium of spoken word poetry to bring about change.

Roger Bonair-Agard

Pronouns: He, Him, His

Roger Bonair-Agard is a self-proclaimed “Trinidadian, writer [and] shit-taker.” His poetry weaves together humor, satire and tragedy in order to create a portrait of race relations in the United States.

His performance of the poem “The All Black Penguin” is chilling. He stands with what looks like a glass of dark liqueur in one hand; he sips it as he pauses between lines. His other hand is outstretched in defiance. The poem is a satire about race relations in America through the lens of a news story.

Another poem “How the Ghetto Loves Us Back” paints a colorful portrait of struggle. He illustrates “crack vials crunching” beneath a woman’s heels.

Bonair-Agard’s poetry is anything but romantic.

It is raw, real and breathtaking.

Hieu Minh Nguyen

Pronouns: He, Him, His

Hieu Minh Nguyen works at a haberdashery.

He strikes a delicate equilibrium between humility and profundity. Pushing his glasses back with a single finger, he stands on stage and tears down stereotypes related to both heritage and sexuality.

He spoke at this university’s Asian monologues, and explained “spoken word poetry is about interacting with others.”

Nguyen said he uses poetry as a bat signal, an emotional echolocation. He said he sends out experiences and emotions to create a mutual bond with the audience. As poets, “we also speak the language of loneliness. So I perform poetry and see who grabs back.”

His poems are not merely proclamations but invitations. In his poem “Seven,Nguyen tells the story of why his grandmother’s name is a number.

Nguyen performs his work across the globe, touring colleges such as Harvard, Dartmouth and New York University. His current book of poetry is This Way to the Sugar, in which he exposes the underbelly of race, tradition and sexuality.

Sarah Kay

Pronouns: She, Her, Hers

Sarah Kay is a mediocre driver at best.

She also loves postcards.

In her poem“The Type,” dedicated to her best friend, she explores the male gaze and what it means to be comfortable inside of one’s self without needing the approval of someone else.

When Kay performs her poetry, she does not shout as some do. She remains calm as she delves into the tiny details of life as a woman and as a human being growing up in New York City.

Not only does she perform her own poetry, she also encourages others to try it themselves She is the founder and co-director of Project VOICE, a program that travels to hundreds of schools around the globe to help students find their own creative voices.

Each poem by Kay is a celebration of personal identity and the ordinary.

Franny Choi

Pronouns: She, Her, Hers

Franny Choi’s poems are explorations of power.

Listen to her, close your eyes, and you can feel the descent into a fresh and dynamic perspective. Climbing to the tops of peaks and into deep valleys she delves into various aspects of the human experience, including the intersection of race and gender.

Choi seems dedicated to speaking the truth in her poetry. During her performance at this university, she said “being a writer looks like a million different things.”

Her love of poetry and writing is evident in most of her work.“I still love the game of putting words together,” Choi said. “I still need to write in order to understand my own experiences but now I think in college what happened is writing is also a way to interact with other people […] and not just free form socializing, which is what a poet friend of ours once called conversation.”

Choi both teaches and performs. She is a member of Project VOICE,  as well as an award-winning poet and author of Floating, Brilliant, Gone.

In her poem “Pork Fried Rice,” Choi responds to a man who shouted “I like pork fried rice” at her as she was walking down the street.

Andrea Gibson

Pronouns: She, Her, Hers

Andrea Gibson once spent an entire year eating only chocolate bars for breakfast.

Her poetry turns the ordinary into the extraordinary. Her poems explore her journey as a queer poet with panic attacks and extreme stage fright.

To Gibson, a heart is a music box and heartbreak is the hole in a flute.

She consistently beats the drum of society’s consciousness. She speaks about war and overcomes her anxiety to stand on stage and speak her truth.

Gibson expands her activism beyond poetry. She is a co-founder of STAY HERE WITH ME, an initiative to raise suicide awareness and provide a community for people to come together and know they are not alone. The website explores music and personal stories about coping with depression and suicide.

In her poem about gay marriage, Gibson does not delve into complications, she explains “When visiting hours are for family members only I wanna know they’ll let me in.”

headshot_rayeRaye Weigel is a freshman English and community health double major and can be reached at rayanneweigel@gmail.com.

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