Moody lights, chill vibes and amazing poetry: What more can you ask for from an evening of spoken word? From the gate, a large group of ASPB members greeted guests warmly and passed out information about the event. As the crowd started filling the interior of the Barn, excited murmurs resonated around the room as people began chatting about the performers on the list.
The evening began with the event’s first-ever open mic session where students were encouraged to perform their original pieces of poetry or performances. Fourth-year neuroscience student Courtney Pattugalan opened up the performance with her poem, “Drunk in Love.” Other memorable performances included a beautiful mash-up cover of John Legend’s “Save Room” and Ariana Grande’s “Love Me Harder” by fourth-year business student Arthur Kang.
Among the nervous stutters of first-time performers flowed beautiful truths from UCR students, experiences that hit home for many in the audience. Themes of love, family and school drew raucous cheers and applause from the audience. Even with slip-ups and forgotten lines, the audience cheered on the performers in a way that united the room through poetry, music and love.
As the room continued to fill up with students, the emcees for the night introduced the first of three main acts for the show. Welcomed with a thunderous applause, Sy Stokes took to the stage. A UCLA undergrad from the Bay, and youngest of the three performers, he took the stage first with a poem called “Random Thoughts” where he talked about life getting in the way of love and the beauty that a person cannot see. He performed two more moving pieces where he talked about depression, suicide and family. It was incredibly personal and soul-stirring and caused many in the audience to tear up. Interlaced between his dark and sad performances were lively Q-and-A sessions where people were encouraged to ask him questions about his life. Many of the questions stirred laughter and smiles that helped relieve the sad tension in the air and allowed the audience to connect with the performer and vice-versa. The audience asked a range of questions that encompassed his love life, family, his inspiration for writing poetry and tips on how to start out as an aspiring poet.
Neil Hilborn took to the stage afterward. Many could feel the energy emanating from him as he introduced his first piece. His opening piece, “OCD,” was an explosive expression of the effects of OCD on a previous relationship. He brings us into his mind and showed us how his ex-girlfriend was able to, for a time, love him with his mental illness. What made his performance memorable was how his eccentric, electric, sarcastic and witty humor was able to grab his audience’s attention. In one incredibly hilarious poem titled “Dear Creationists,” he discussed pigs having 30-minute orgasms, the size of whale genitalia and how humans cannot possibly be the best-designed species.
Between his humorous and dark poems, the audience was shown how the highs he experiences in his bipolar disorder are also countered by extreme lows. He tackled issues of class, mental disorders, death and suicide. He spoke about how it didn’t seem fair that life circumstances allowed his family to provide him with the care he needed to cope with his disorders but his friend had to deal with depression without aid because his family couldn’t afford therapy. Viewers were taken on a roller coaster of emotions throughout his performance and were left exhilarated and energized afterward.
Finally, Shihan the Poet closed off the group with a string of poems that tackled issues of race and family. He started off his set with a powerful poem that dealt with the oppression and killing of black people that span thousands of years. It was fast-paced, and the closer he got to the present time, the harder it hit members in the audience that prejudice is still very real to this day. In a similar fashion to Stokes, he also interlaced his pieces with Q-and-A sessions to create a dialogue with the audience. One of his most memorable pieces of the night was “Love in Five Parts” that was dedicated to his wife.
“More Than Spoken Word” really lived up to its name. The evening was filled with good vibes and energy, people were able to express themselves artistically to a welcoming crowd, and strangers were able to bond over a shared love of spoken word. Before he finished his set, Shihan said that it is “hard to get people interested in poetry … but since spoken word is heard, it allows you to hear the emotion in the performer’s words, and not in a disinterested voice.” This event was an amazing way to introduce newcomers like myself to the scene and also for veterans to perform and see their role models perform live.