Arts & Entertainment Editor
Trigger Warning: Mentions of sexual assault, miscarriage, alcoholism.
People poured into the Zoom room as “Rain On Me” by Lady Gaga and Ariana Grande greeted attendees of the fourth Annual Intersectional Poetry Slam, put on by the Office of Equity and Inclusion. The event featured three guest poets: Whittier ‘20 alum Ariel Horton and Danielle Pesqueira, as well as Paru Frances Leanna Cariño Herrera-Lim. Co-organizers fourth-years Cole DiGrazia, Marianella Perez, and third-year Norma De la Rosa welcomed attendees, thanked the guest performers, and talked about this year’s theme: resilience.
DiGrazia explained what resilience means to him: “This past year has brought unbelievable crisis and hardships to everyone because of the pandemic, not to mention the challenges already faced by marginalized communities fighting against systematic oppression in nearly every aspect of life. The fact that we are all still here and surviving during a frankly traumatic time in history is a testament to our resilience.” For Perez, resilience means “defying the odds, and not in some trailblazing way necessarily, but [. . .] by living your own presence and admiring the power that holds. Resilience for De la Rosa is “keeping our heads high and navigating hard times. I think that it is one of the most amazing qualities human beings have.”
De la Rosa kicked off the event by introducing their very own co-organizer, Marianella Perez, to talk about her store 999. 999 is a mutual aid movement that combines art and activism. She held up colorful, rectangular stickers as she said that she donated 15 percent of her proceeds to different charities during the BLM protests. Every month, she puts up a poll of different organizations to choose who to donate proceeds to; the past three months have been GoFundMe’s. Perez also talked about the meaning of the store’s name: “999 itself is an angel number that stands for the support of friends that are there to guide you towards your destined path…which is what my friends have always pushed me to do.” You can follow 999 on Instagram @999mvmt.
Following Perez was the first guest poet, Ariel Horton. Horton opened up by saying, “Over the past year, we’ve all proven ourselves to be extremely resilient.” This was a common sentiment amongst everyone in the room on Friday night. She writes a lot about grief. Horton lost her father to alcoholism when she was 15, and that loss is centered a lot in her work. Her poem, “Sippy Cup,” especially highlights that, as it compares a mother who drinks from her deceased son’s sippy cup to the speaker’s experience with encountering her deceased father’s possessions. However, Horton’s perspective on grief grows as she gets older. She read a poem that she wrote in high school and has been revised throughout the years. At the end of her set, she ended with some more uplifting poems to capture the spirit of resilience and healing. “So, the last few poems I’ll be reading show a glimpse into the fact that I really have recovered, and, at the end of the day, I have such a love and reverence for being alive,” Horton told me. You can see more of Horton’s poetry and life @daisyvein on Instagram!
After a few tears were wiped from De la Rosa’s face (Horton’s poetry got a lot of people emotional, including myself), she introduced the next vendor, TRASH MAG. Fourth-year Bergen Flom is the co-editor in chief of the zine and she believes that “art is a vehicle for radical change.” The zine uplifts minority voices and “[makes a] space for people to question and process topics surrounding power, privilege, self-identity, and representation.”
One of their series is “We Skate Too,” which focuses on the changing skating sphere to include women, non-binary, and queer people. They often have playlists which feature queer BIPOC artists, and they post frequently about community resources. Their website features digital and physical versions of their zines, as well as some really cool merchandise. TRASH MAG highlights how art and writing are resilient, even during the weird times of the pandemic.
Up next was the second guest poet, Danielle Pesqueira. They started with their oldest poem, which was written in high school. Pesqueira explained that “Darling” was influenced by Spring, but also about their seasonal depression. They moved along their set with more personal poems. What followed “Darling” was “From a Devil’s Tongue,” which is about how Pesqueira was raised Catholic. They then read a poem titled “Her Memories Escape Me,” which is about her grandmother and how the aspect of certain memories fade. Pesqueira introduced their most recent poem that had the motif of bruises and bruises as they heal. This is a common motif amongst their poetry, including another they read, titled “Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow.” Finally, they closed out their set with “Everywhere I’ve Been,” which was about breaking free from toxicity in life, illuminating the theme of resilience. You can follow Pesqueria on Instagram @daniellemarie312.
The next vendor, Heidi Metro, started by saying that every poetry slam she’s been to has made her cry; poetry is a powerful and emotional art. Metro is a multimedia artist, but she showed many of the collages she has done. Her art is based in activism and raising awareness for certain issues. One that stood out that she showed was the collage that read, “the world is burning, are you finally paying attention?” With the red, flaming backdrop catching your eye as the magazine cut letters demands for you to answer the question. You can see more of Metro’s art on Instagram @clownbbycreations.
The last of the guest poets was Paru Frances Leanna Cariño Herrera-Lim; she introduced herself as Paru Herrera-Lim. She migrated from Virginia, Manila, London, and Chicago, before finally relocating to L.A. in 2017. They began their set with “Luya,” which is a prayer in Tagalog; the prayer calls for people to settle into their bodies. Her next poem was about being in a community with people at a distance. Her parents work in diplomacy, so they weren’t close after she had a miscarriage; the poem talked about the pain of having a miscarriage. Their next poem was dedicated to their mother. They understood the maternal sacrifice that is needed to bring a life into the world, and so they titled their poem “Cariño.” This poem and the next both had song-like qualities, and Herrera-Lim believes that poetry is naturally like that. She ended her set with excerpts from eight different zines. The zines are love letters to herself that she likes to call “light thoughts.” One of the excerpts read, “you are the highest form of love,” reminding us that you are deserving of love, and you can remind yourself that you are deserving. Herrera-Lim can be followed on Instagram @paru_frances.
Student poets also got the chance to read some of their poems. The first of the bunch was fourth-year Kris Berardi, who read three of their poems. They started with “A Day at the Park,” which was about their anxiety and perfectionism when it came to painting trees. Next was “Speaking of Masks,” which was written during the fires last year during the pandemic. We had to worry about the ash that littered the sky and also the possibility of catching COVID-19. They finished with “Perfect People,” which was spoken to a ukulele melody.
Third-year Mercedes Brookins was next, and she read “What Not to Say to a Black Woman” and “Some Nights.” “Some Nights” spoke to the theme of resilience: “These nights are necessary / and you’re gonna get through it, you have to.” You may have hard nights where it feels like everything is in shambles, but they build you up as a person; they’re necessary.
DiGrazia followed Brookins, and he read two poems. “Carvings” was first; the powerful words spoke of them finding comfortability in their own body, but also about how difficult that journey was. “Etymology of Me” was about the breath of fresh air that “non-binary” brought: “Finally, a word where I could live in the in-between places.”
Fourth-year Cat Tang closed out the student poets, and she began with “Crowning of a Queen.” She explained that she wrote this poem in January of this year and was about finally feeling at home in her own body. She may have always thought that she wanted to be a princess, but really she is a queen. Tang’s last poem, “Timelapse,” was about how weird time has been in quarantine, and this was her way of working through the weirdness of the times. She reminisced on past memories but also showed that we have a new way of making memories now over Zoom. Until spring comes again — maybe we can make semi-normal memories again.
The open mic portion of the event closed out the night, and De la Rosa read her poem “You.” She told me that the inspiration came after she was sexually assaulted last year. Once she sat down, “You” flowed out of her. “Yesterday, I yelled at the top of my lungs,” read De la Rosa. Her poem is angry, but isn’t sure who to be angry at. She ends the poem with, “But something I do know is that I did not deserve that.” Her ability to take her experience and turn it into a poem requires immense strength and resilience, which made it a perfect way to end the poetry slam.
Despite the difficulties of adapting the event to an online platform, the fourth Annual Intersectional Poetry Slam was a space of relief. It was a space for poets to share their grief, their trauma, and their healing with everyone in the room. It was an extremely inspirational event; I left brimming with creativity. The poetry slam just shows how important poetry is, especially in the weird times we’re in now. They allow us to share, process, and heal. It reminded me that we are all resilient individuals, and that should be celebrated.
Featured Image Courtesy of the Office of Equity and Inclusion.