Legendary “Sister Spit” artists will make you drool

Janine Ybanez/Highlander
Janine Ybanez/Highlander

The Sister Spit spoken word collective formed in 1994 as an all-girl open mic show. In a time when open mic shows across the nation were filled with misogyny and prejudice, a brave group of women in San Francisco joined forces to empower women through lesbian-feminist poetry.

By the end of the 1990s, Sister Spit spread to the rest of the nation when it became the first all-girl poetry roadshow ever, and the fearless, rock band-like ensemble of Sister Spit poets still travel the nation today. Now, it has opened itself up to be inclusive of all genders in respect to the changing gender landscape.

The Sister Spit 2016 Tour includes seven extraordinary artists who are currently touring the West Coast. UCR was fortunate enough to have Sister Spit, along with guest artist Minh Pham, perform on March 29 in HUB 302 South.

The event, which housed around 100 audience members, was coordinated by UCR Distinguished Professor of Creative Writing Susan Straight, who offered a fond introduction at the beginning of the show.

“This is the one night that I look forward to every year,” she said. “It is the best usage of language possible,” she continued, referring to the rawness of the poets’ experiences in the form of spoken word and their ability to evoke vivid images in her head.

After Straight introduced the audience to Sister Spit, Juliana Delgado Lopera, one of the seven Sister Spit artists and host of the show, thanked RADAR Productions for organizing the group and enthusiastically announced a night of amazing poetry.

The first poet she introduced was UCR graduate Minh Pham, who was born in Vietnam and moved to Riverside when he was eight. His poems largely recounted his experiences growing up in two different cultures. In his poem, “Two Rivers,” he compared the Santa Ana River to a river near his home in Vietnam. The Santa Ana River reminded him of the childhood he had in his home country, but when the river dried out, there was no longer a “stream for us to find our way back home.” The poem alluded to the disparity between Vietnamese and American culture and how the familiarity of his home country was absent in America.

The next performer was Nikki Darling, author of “Pink Trumpet and Purple Prose.” She read several excerpts from the book, one of which was “Secret Agent Lover.” The poem was rich with enticing wordplay, with many lines staying in your head simply because of the way they sounded. The lines “Baby doll baby. Baby doll baby. I take little steps toward recovery then get high on you,” spell out the words of deep desire with danger. The closing lines, “She don’t need a glamorous life. She don’t need a man’s touch. Without Love,” delves further into the hesitance toward attachment and indicates the disconnect between love and libido in a young girl’s life.

Next, Julia Serano, who is best known for her book “Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity,” discussed the misogynistic tendencies that influence people’s assumptions toward transgender people. In one of her stories titled “Smells Like Teen Dystopia,” she humorously described a period in which time is “queer and dystopia” rather than “straight.” In the story, it takes a dystopian society for cisgender people to finally get a taste of what it feels like to be constantly misplaced and misunderstood as a transgender person.

In a performance as animated and evocative as a play, Jezebel Delilah X, who describes herself as a “queer, lush-bodied, Black, femme performance artist for ‘The Revolution,’” spoke about her experience with love. She detailed growing up as a “dark-skin fat girl” in a “world that said all three things were bad” and discovering love for the first time with a girl named Shontae. She then talked about her father by saying that “when freedom was too abstract, he taught me to fight.” One day, she said, she found him secretly crying in the bathtub. “I miss my momma so much,” he said. “I don’t want to fight anymore. People who fight die fighting. I want you to fight for love.”

Taking the show further into the realm of familial issues that Delilah X brushed upon, Virgie Tovar, a “plus-size writer” for Buzzfeed and creator of #LoseHateNotWeight, talked about being raised by her grandparents instead of her mother. She claimed that she “went directly from (her) mother’s womb into (her) grandmother’s arms.” She grew up with a lingering tension with her absent mother. At the end of the performance, however, she met with both her mother and grandmother in the nostalgic fog of San Francisco, the city she grew up in. Tovar had to pause to prevent herself from crying but got emotional when audience members began applauding. In the end, she comforted her grandmother by telling her, “I’ll never change. I’ll always be here.”

Denise Benavides, an Oakland-based queer Chicana poet whose latest publication is a zine named “Writing Through Bipolar in Sixteen Steps,” started her performance by reading some of her poetry, one of which was titled “Lolita.” “Lolita” details being trapped with an external identity, with one line saying she feels like she is a “persistent terrorist of this body.” After reading some of her work, she put down her papers and recited from her heart. “This isn’t how you make a poem,” she said, “but this is how you tell them you’ve been carrying a gun under your bed.”

Stepping aside from her job as host, Lopera, an award-winning Colombian fiction writer and author of “¡Cuentamelo!,” read a story based on her experiences growing up in Colombia and the prejudice against women there. A character named Alva, who cuts her hair short, is derogatorily called “girl-boy” and is abused by her family. The story ends with the people thinking “she would actually look good as a boy, too bad she is a ‘senorita,’” signifying Alva’s independence and choice of identity.

Closing the show on a buoyant note, Cassie J. Snyder, a competitive air guitarist and the author of “Fine Fine Music,” recited a hilarious story about her relationship with a past boyfriend named Dave. She and Dave lived together for a while in subpar city life but had fond memories together. One particularly funny memory they had together was buying a large dildo, covering the dildo in ketchup and putting it in the driver’s seat of Dave’s car to prevent it from getting robbed. The two eventually broke up but met again at the end of the story. They laughed at an inside joke about tape, indicating that some relationships never change.
Although the gender landscape of queer communities has changed a lot since the 1990s, Sister Spit will continue inspiring university students to be proud of their individual identities and combatting prejudice with every passionate “spit” of words.

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