“ … To remind ourselves that we are still here and to remind ourselves that we can still heal … ”
This was just one line of slam champion and University of Maryland Alum Elizabeth Acevedo’s introduction to the Mixed Monologues. In 17 words, she captured the heart of spoken word poetry.
Students gathered in the Stamp Gallery March 3, to listen to poetry by TOTUS students. TOTUS (Latin for whole, all, total, every part, all together, all at once) is a weekly course that teaches students to explore marginalized identities through poetry.
“Part of it is the poetry but it’s not a poetry class,” said Judy Baho, a senior government and politics major and TOTUS student. “We focus on issues of identity. It’s not just making a good poem that can rhyme. It’s about making something that means something to you.”
Before anyone performed, Acevedo, who hosted the event, reminded the audience that there has to be a relationship between the speakers and the listeners. She encouraged snapping and clapping, and anything else that would show love and appreciation for the speaker.
Members of the TOTUS class each performed a poem. Even though the poets’ backgrounds were diverse, the poems all had an underlying connection: acknowledging and embracing your true identity.
Baho was one of several TOTUS students who shared their work. Her poem was about her Arab-American identity.
“I was afraid I was going to pee on myself or puke or faint,” she said.
After she read, Baho said she felt relieved. She said she noticed all the speakers walked back “with a look of catharsis on their faces,” testifying that poetry can have a healing effect.
Baho said she was amazed at how much her classmates had grown and improved their works.
“I was blown away. The fact that I had heard them go through the process of making it did not detract one tiny bit from their performances,” she said.
In between performances, Acevedo commented on the all the poets’ honesty and vulnerability.
“This is one of the most amazing open mics I’ve been to,” she said.
The final part of the night was an open-mic for members of the audience.
Kosi Dunn, a junior transmedia storytelling major, read a poem about his grandmother asking him about his “life path.” Dunn said he liked being able to share his poem with everyone.
“It’s very conversational,” he said. “I like when [Acevedo] said we enter a relationship when we do this craft with the host and the speaker and the audience. You don’t necessarily see that in any other art form. It’s never so at risk. You really put yourself at stake. I think that’s incredibly brave, and I think the bravery shows in how the audience reacts.”
The audience reacted very positively, creating an energetic and intimate atmosphere.
Performers were welcomed with a big round of applause before and after their readings, and the sound of snaps filled the room whenever a particularly powerful line was spoken.
James said the real appeal of spoken word poetry is the energy.
“The delivery of it, the performance aspect of it, is how people really get to feel the words,” James said. “They really feel that connection on a human level.”
Peter Stirpe, a freshman computer science major, said he’s never been to an event like this before.
“I feel like it was something I needed, just listening to everyone else’s struggles, and it made me put everyone else’s struggles into consideration before I just think about myself,” he said.
Stirpe added he respects the courage and skill of the performers.
“In my opinion, saying what you actually think is extremely difficult, and these people have real talent that they can do that.”
Featured Photo Credit: Senior math major Jake Crouse holds his arm out to show his metaphorically slit wrists at TOTUS’ Mixed Monologue event on March 3 in College Park, Md. (Jack Angelo/Bloc Reporter)
Rosie Kean is a freshman journalism major and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.