Voices: Poems of Experience and Identity
Issue   |   Wed, 12/05/2012 - 01:10
Image courtesy of Cole Morgan '13
Still an undergraduate student, Mans’ spoken word was startling in her capacity to recognize and verbalize both social inequalities and individual responsibilities.

It was tempting for me to skip Voices for the Voiceless: it was on a busy weekend, and the thought of sitting through poetry sounded a little too much like schoolwork. By the grace of whatever Deity granted us poetry, however, I’m glad I did. To anyone who didn’t go: boo to you.

An annual event organized by La Causa, the campus’s Latino affinity group, Voices for the Voiceless brings together a group of poets to perform spoken word. For those who don’t know, spoken word is an experimental word-based performance art. This year, dedicated to the late Louis Reyes Rivera, a Nuyorican activist who had been integral to Voices, was especially important, as it was the 15th anniversary of this Diaspora poetry concert. Voices is touted as an opportunity to increase the appreciation of the use of the arts as a means to engage issues of social inequalities and increase the visibility of African, Latino, Asian and Native Americans. On that note, Voices excelled. The panel was engaging and addressed a diversity of issues, from everything from love at first sight to sexual violence in the queer community. In fact, I would say that calling the performers poets is too limited a term: they were witty, talented auteurs who were able to voice and clarify powerful moments of introspection.

The first poet, Alix Olson, was a rape survivor and a queer woman who was involved in feminism from birth due to her activist mother. Considering the turbulent semester we have had at the College, Olson was the perfect start to the performance. Addressed to a teenaged Olson soon to experience rape, her poem “Dear 16 Year Old Me,” was a viscerally moving piece in which she hopes: “I wish I could guarantee you a softer landing/It’s going to be spectacular.” I sat right behind her partner, with whom she shared soft glances and who clapped with the rest of the audience as she happily announced that she was pregnant; even I could tell that her life really was spectacular. Her other poems, while less personal in narrative, were striking in her commitment to bearing witness. The first renewed the relevancy of Hurricane Katrina, with imagery of a woman who has to send her baby out on a raft because no one has come for them. I was reminded of how critical it is that we never reduce tragedies to their statistics, for while they don’t define people, they reverberate within the lives of all those affected.

Another notable poet, Jasmine Mans, astounded me with not only her varied accomplishments (among which are two plays and a book), but also her capacity to forgive. In her first poem “I Know You Didn’t Mean To Kill Him,” in which she screamed and yelled to create a heartbreakingly striking performance, Mans details her thoughts on the unfortunately common occurrence of murder among her childhood friends. She cites racism as the primary cause, claiming that while unintentional, murder is all but inevitable when black boys are raised in a hostile nation unwilling to support them. A particularly vicious truth she spat out was that “all we gave him [the murderer] was his Miranda rights/and a couple of seconds left to plea for his life/in front of a God and a world/he didn’t think loved him.” However, the black experience isn’t all negative. She cites Michelle Obama as a tangible example of how things are getting better: how her young cousin was able to see somebody who looked like her as the first lady. While sometimes harsh, Mans invites the audience to rethink how race and class affect our everyday lives and how we are all culpable in creating this world. She also invites you to despair at how pathetic you are: Mans is only 21, and, like us, a college student (at the Univ. of Wisconsin).

Another poet, Georgia Me, ended the event with some powerful, identity-empowering poetry. She sang and recited “Ghetto Belle,” a catchy poem-song affirming her identity as a black female poet from an underprivileged neighborhood in Atlanta, Georgia. While some of the spoken word was heavy to the point of tears, Me’s charismatic poetry ended Voices on a cheerful but poignant note.

And, before you forget: while the poets, of course, made the event amazing, it would not have been possible without the help of La Causa — in particular, Nedia Morsy ’14. In fact, the group is already planning for next year’s event — so if you weren’t able to come this time (or even if you did), you should definitely attend Voices next year.

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Comments
Carrie (not verified) says:
Wed, 03/06/2013 - 18:56

What exactly is the meaning behind Jasmine Mans consequntial poem "I Know You Didn't Mean To Kill Him"?

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