The Verbal Coliseum held their annual spoken word showcase on Thursday, March 7 at HUB 379, in a room packed with spoken word aficionados. The showcase featured 13 of the club’s poets each performing their own original work. A table near the front of the room had pictures of each performer and sticky notes for people to leave encouraging notes to them.
The featured poet of the night was Tongo Eisen-Martin, a spoken word artist from San Francisco. Eisen-Martin is the author of the poetry collections “someone’s dead already” and “Heaven is All Goodbyes” which received a 2018 California Book Award, 2018 American Book Award, was named a 2018 California Booksellers Association Poetry Book of the Year and was shortlisted for the 2018 Griffin International Poetry Prize.
The first of the Verbal Coliseum’s performers was Martiza Altamirano, a fourth-year transfer student and business major who has already performed at spoken word poetry slams in her native Central Valley. Altamirano performed three pieces, one of which was a poem wishing her mother a happy birthday. Altamirano’s last poem, titled “Acceptance,” discussed self-love and comfort in one’s own body. She ended the poem by having the audience call back “I love myself.”
Another of the poets presenting was Verbal Coliseum secretary Eddie Ramirez, a fifth-year anthropology major whose poems talked about failed relationships and moving on from heartbreak. For the poem titled “Dope Ass Mofo Poem Y’all Wassssupp,” Ramirez performed alongside another member Kris Allen, fourth-year transfer English major, as they sang and rapped. Ramirez collaborated on a poem at last year’s showcase and wanted to collaborate again this year, this time with Allen due to their similar styles and subjects.
Devany Harden, the Verbal Coliseum’s president and third-year theatre, film and digital production major, performed two poems about dance and one titled “Mixed Voice” about her experience as a biracial individual. “Our showcase and the open mic are (meant) to give our poets opportunities to perform, experience performing and meet other people who are interested as well,” began Harden. “Our guest speakers give them access to somebody who’s been in their shoes, and to expose them to new worlds, other poets (and) connections.”
After an open mic and brief intermission, Eisen-Martin closed the night by performing three poems where he critiqued politics and racial injustice. He then answered questions about his writing process, performances and life in San Francisco.
Eisen-Martin shared how he used to just read his poems at open mics until another poet advised him to be direct with the audience. Eisen-Martin began to make eye contact with his audience when performing which some audience members were receptive to. “In any given audience there are people who are instantly with you. All you really need is a person there and there and you can make it (through),” he said. One day at a protest, however, his direct style prompted a female audience member to tell him to not be so intense with his audience. “What you’re doing is too strong. Don’t bring that down into people,” he joked as he recalled what the lady told him. Since then he has looked to musicians like Jimi Hendrix for inspiration on performing spoken word. “I’m just going with what’s naturally there moment-to-moment, and that’s all I’m trying to do,” he commented.
On his style, Eisen-Martin explained that the more detailed and nuanced a poet’s writing is, the more they are able to develop their unique voice. “You get to your voice through awareness of yourself, figuring out what makes you tick and being detailed,” said Eisen-Martin. He also shared how writers should be open to contradicting themselves on the page to show their growth in mentality. “Some people (when writing poetry) in the beginning, we write like we never disagree with ourselves, and that’s why it sounds a little off,” he began. “It doesn’t reflect the natural process because all we do is walk around disagreeing with ourselves all day long.”
The first spoken word showcase by the club was held in 2018 and featured nine poets. One year later, the Verbal Coliseum has grown and now features 13 poets for the showcase. A component of the club are workshops where members get feedback from other members on their poems. Each of the featured poets hosted a workshop leading up to the showcase.
The Verbal Coliseum meets Fridays from 3:30-5 p.m. in different locations in the HUB. Meetings locations for Spring 2019 will be posted on the group’s Highlander Link (@TheVerbalColiseum) and Instagram (@theverbalcoliseum) pages.