Sister Outsider discusses sexuality, race

by Rebecca Asoulin | 11/6/13 2:49pm

Denice Frohman, of the poetry slam duo Sister Outsider and the latest world poetry slam champion, offered a few suggestions to the students and faculty crowded at One Wheelock Tuesday night.

“If you like something that sticks with you to your ribs you can say ‘mhm hmm’...you can try that,” Frohman said. “You can say ‘all right.’ You can say Hallelujah. Actually don’t do that last one because it will distract me.”

A feeling of engagement among the audience, Frohman and Dominique Christina, the other half of the duo was palpable throughout Sister Outsider’s performance. Their work this fall is the first time two former Poetry Slam champions have gone on tour together.

“I think college campuses are important because it is where you really start to have deliberate conversations that allow you to land on who you think you are and what you imagine the world is,” Christina said.

Women and gender studies department chair Jennifer Fluri said Sister Outsider reached out to her this summer.

“College campuses are a great place for their type of performance, because their message is something that college students are poised to hear and also maybe need to hear,” Fluri said. Christina addressed her inspiration for telling stories in an introduction to the poem, “Birmingham Sunday,” which she will perform in Birmingham, Ala. for the 50th anniversary of the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing

“Stories are important,” she said. “Sometimes especially the ones that precede us, the ones that happened before we did. For my grandmother, a Native American woman, in her tradition stories are medicine and you have an obligation to them.”

Frohman, whose poem “Dear Straight People” went viral and now has more than 600,000 views on YouTube, expressed a similar way of experiencing and appreciating storytelling.

“Sometimes we learn best from the stories that are not our own, from the experiences that are not our own,” Frohman said.

The themes of what it means to be othered and what it means to be a woman are prevalent in the poets’ work, both solo and collaborative.

“Certainly we’ve had the experience of being othered,” Christina said. “You know that there are many ways you can other a person — it’s the genital package you have, it’s the language that you’re born with, geographically where you landed can other you.”

The duo also led two workshops for the introductory women and gender studies course “Sex, Gender and Society” and at Cutter Shabazz.

“The issues that they deal with in their poetry are issues that have been discussed widely on campus since all of the events that happened last spring,” Fluri said.

Sister Outsider’s visit is part of the White Ribbon Campaign at Dartmouth, aimed to promote male involvement in the work to end sexual violence against women.

Fluri attributes the overwhelmingly positive response to the caliber of Sister Outsider’s performance and the respect they command in the slam poetry community.

Jillian Mayer ’14, the treasurer of Soul Scribes, one of the co-sponsoring partners, said she admired Sister Outsider’s work.

“Their poetry is amazing and I can’t relate to all of it,” Mayer said. “But I feel like they’re just speaking their truths and it has inspired me and other folks.”

Christina recommended that the student population be attuned to the spoken word community at the College.

“It seems like you guys have a good spoken word presence on campus,” Christina said. “Snap when they talk and make them feel good about life and spoken word.”

The event was sponsored by the women’s and gender studies department.