Students gathered at the Barn last Wednesday, but instead of rocking out to an indie band or rap artist, they gathered for an emotional night of spoken word. For three hours, Franny Choi, Rudy Francisco, Dante Basco and Gemineye shared their poetry revolving around racism, love, fatherhood and culture. I thought it was going to be a quieter show due to the fact that there were chairs placed inside the Barn, instead of standing room as usual, but as soon as the show started, I was proven wrong. The crowd clapped and yelled, and I even saw people holding their heads in their hands as if they were listening to a religious sermon. By the end of the show, the poets had brought so much emotion to the stage that people were left lingering in their seats, taking in what they just heard.
The festivities began with Franny Choi, an adorable woman sporting glasses too big for her face. Her poems were some of the most hilarious of the night — the crowd’s reactions varied from laughter with “POP!goesKOREA!” to anger with “To The Man Who Shouted ‘I like Pork Fried Rice’ To Me In The Street.” Regardless of the emotional reaction she was trying to get from the audience, her poetry was extremely witty and sarcastic. Her themes varied from South Korean culture to tackling sexism, racism and catcalling.
Some prime examples were the lyrics, “I slick my hair in MSG every day / I’m bad for you” from “Pork Fried Rice,” and “Drunken doughnuts / Karaoke overdose on every block / And six sugarplum makeup stores all in a row / One of which is just called ‘The Face Shop’” from “POP!goesKOREA!” The most creative segment was when she played “Mad Libs” with the audience to make up her next poem. She took suggestions from the audience, asking for the name of a body of water, a verb for “struggle” and other fill-in-the-blanks. The audience actively participated by yelling out random answers, ranging from Lake Tahoe to toilet water. Choi came out with a poem that was not only humorous, but also strangely inspiring, even with random words taken from the audience.
While the crowd was left to take in that humorous creativity, Francisco came on stage, followed by much applause. Already a familiar face in the spoken word community, he encouraged his listeners to express their emotions anytime during his poetry, and the audience made sure they followed through. When Francisco touched on a deep issue or just had a spectacular line, everyone started clapping and yelling, unable to restrain themselves until the end. His writing was humorous like Choi’s, but also hit on more inspiring issues. In his poem “To the Body,” he said to his legs, “Walking is easy / Just pick a destination.” In another poem he yelled to the audience, “There’s water in the cup, so drink that shit and stop complaining!” With these words left lingering in the audience’s minds, Francisco was the only poet to receive a standing ovation from current and newfound fans.
But while Francisco may have gotten the only standing ovation, Dante Basco created a rumble for all the members of the Avatar fandom in the audience. Besides being a poet, he is most known for his roles as Zuko from “Avatar: The Last Airbender,” and as Rufio from “Hook.” Not only did he speak about racial stereotypes and culture, but he also performed poetry inspired by “Avatar.” These 15-second poems derived from a romantic pairing of two characters in the show, Zuko and Katara. These poems were followed by fans cheering their support of the couple, and Basco’s set ended up with loud applause throughout the whole venue.
That level of applause continued through Gemineye’s set. Taking out his iPad right when he arrived on stage, he recited a poem that he had written in the airport on the way to Riverside. It revolved around fatherhood and racism, and how he didn’t want his son to hate himself — no matter how many people bullied him for his race. After seeing students nodding their heads in agreement, or holding their heads in their hands as if they were listening to a god speak, I could tell the poem did its job. He then moved on to more humorous issues by reading letters he “wrote” to criticize celebrities. His “Letter to Trey Songz” started off by saying, “Dear Trey Songz, you did not invent sex,” and his “Letter to Justin Bieber” started off by not-so-subtly saying, “You are a jackass.” While he was a little more soft-spoken than Francisco or Choi, Gemineye still created a stir in the audience with his criticisms and discussions about being a good parent.
The night was definitely the opposite of quiet. The Barn roared at the words of Choi, Francisco, Basco and Gemineye. It was an emotional rollercoaster, ranging from joy to solemn reflection. But that’s what is so magnificent about good spoken word poetry. Its lyrics may seem like simple words on paper, but when those words are spoken aloud, the emotions the poet wants to convey become experiences for the audience to feel.