After an extremely hectic week across campus between projects and events, and a day of heat that peaked in the triple digits, Friday evening’s Intersectional Poetry Slam, coordinated by the Office of Equity and Inclusion, was a perfect way to unwind. The event was a tight-knit and welcoming space where four students read their poetry. There were also readings from Francisco Gomez, who read for a Diversity Ambassador who was not able to attend, and Professor Douglas Manuel, who read his own poetry in addition to a poem from Audrey Lorde. Diversity Ambassador and third-year Ellis Walker found his role as master of ceremony for the event, providing fun and enthusiastic introductions for each speaker and prompting a lively back-and-forth with the audience, which kept everyone engaged. Despite the size of the crowd, their support was immense, clapping and cheering for each poet and even encouraging students who had not intended to read to break out of their shells and share their work.
Reading poetry aloud can be a difficult hurdle for anyone to overcome. It’s nerve-wracking to speak in front of a crowd, and even more so when sharing something as deeply personal as poetry about one’s identity. But, students and professors alike were up to the task. On top of performing poetry from his first full-length poetry collection Testify and his upcoming book Trouble Funk, Professor Douglas Manuel was the loudest voice in the crowd, excitedly supporting his students in the forms of claps, cheers, and words of advice. As a new professor in the English Department, Manuel has made a name for himself through innovative course offerings and going above and beyond for his students. Manuel praised students for their bravery and talent because he understands the courage it takes to read one’s work aloud. He mentioned how great of an opportunity the Intersectional Poetry Slam was for students to share their work with a small group of peers who will undoubtedly be supportive. This gives the poets the chance to practice overcoming anxieties and finding their voice without fear of judgment.
All of the poems were deeply personal, reflecting a range of experiences and identities — from those of a Black man raised in the ‘80s, to a young Black woman, and a young gay man. Many of their works featured sensory details and powerful statements that reminded the audience that their poems are describing real experiences and emotions that are extremely intimate.
Douglas Manuel was the first poet to read, and he set the tone for the night with his poems “Loud Looks” and “Let’s Get Small”, which showcased metanarratives about the U.S. through poetic description of interactions he has had as a Black man who lives on the fringes of what’s considered typically ‘Black’. Manuel was unphased in his reading despite lots of noise from traffic zooming down Painter, and wind that was strong enough to knock over a five foot tall metal framed sign, but he just picked it up and kept reading. The next poet to grace the stage was fourth-year and Quaker Campus’s own Assistant Arts & Entertainment editor, Mercedes Brookins, who read “men are trash,” “the invitation,” “bitch,” and “what not to say to a Black woman.” Brookins’ poetry addressed a range of topics impactful to her experience as Black woman, including being silenced, violated emotionally and physically by men, exposed to vocal racism, objectified by men, and finding power in using her voice.
Brookins was followed by Ashley Duenas, who read “I Feel Death’s Hands Around My Throat” and “Death” for another student who didn’t feel comfortable reading their work aloud. Nonetheless, the poems were very moving — visible through Duenas’ expressions and excited glances at her friend, as even she was surprised and impressed by their talent. One of the unique concepts their poems included was ‘Death’ as a male figure being imposed on the female writer. Fourth-year English Major Daniel Wolf read a poem titled “Is It Better To Speak Or To Die?” which highlighted parallels in being a gay man now and in ‘80s. The poem featured descriptive scenes of the beach, dinner table, and people engaged in sexual acts. It was romantic, unapologetic in its imagery, and emotional in its feeling of being crushed by love. The last scheduled speaker was Fransisco Gomez, who read four poems for a Diversity Ambassador, who unfortunately could not attend because they had work. Finally, after the applause settled, Walker opened the stage for anyone who felt moved to speak. Although nobody stepped forward initially, after being called out by Professor Manuel and cheered on by the audience, Arlo Tinsman-Kongshaug made his way to the stage and shared, from memory, a poem he wrote. Although not having it in front of him caused some stumbles, the audience was understanding and continued to cheer for him through his recitation.
Sharing work that you feel attached to or that connects to who you are can be especially difficult because you may not want to share it with anyone for fear they won’t receive it with the care it deserves. When you do allow audiences to hear your poems, you may find that they not only relate to your experiences, but can also learn from them. This epitomizes the importance of having these types of events, which uplift intersectional voices because they provide chances to hear experiences that are relatable and informative — either echoing your own or broadening your perspective to those you may not understand.
Daniel Wolf expressed how this environment made him feel comfortable sharing poetry that explicitly detailed one of the most significant parts of his identity, being a gay man. He shared, “It’s about being comfortable with your own words and being comfortable sharing out how you feel and your expression because you’re opening yourself to a whole crowd of people who maybe don’t know you, and you’re sharing intimate works that you might not share otherwise.” His experience seemed to be that of a majority of the poets in attendance. Whether they were attending with friends, or if they were by themselves, every poet was offered the support of the entire crowd.
Professor Manuel closed the event with a poem from Audrey Lorde titled “A Litany for Survival,” which spoke to the nature of intersectionality and the need to use one’s voice. The poem’s final line was, “we were never meant to survive.” This is a reminder that the U.S., academic institutions, and the economy, fundamentally silence and denigrate minorities — but, by using one’s voice and owning one’s experience, we might find a means of survival.
Featured Photo Courtesy of Sage Amdahl/Quaker Campus