Edgy contemporary poets jam at the Hopkins Center

by AnnMary Mathew | 10/20/04 5:00am

To a campus that generally looks like J. Crew upchucked on it, Def Poetry Jam, with its inner-city spirit, seems anomalous and far-off. But its themes are universal, and even the most middle-American students could see fragments of themselves in its members.

Identity, love, poverty, crime, isolation, politics and poetry itself were all examined with deft tongues and sharp insight. The evening began with a medley of rap, R&B, and jazz spun by a highly talented DJ and ended with a standing ovation. Def Poetry Jam isn't to be watched; it's to be experienced.

At the beginning of the performance, the poets asked "are there any American poets in here?" and continued, repeating "poetry is...poetry is."

One poet, Shihuan, talked about how his mother complained about him writing in dim light, he replied that he'd be glad that "the last thing I saw before complete darkness was truth."

Stacyann Chin, a Jamaican national, told the audience to "move reality with imagination."

Many of the poems throughout the performance dealt with identity in some form or another. Ishle Park, the daughter of Korean immigrants, talked about her mother struggling to make a living in a foreign culture and "drowning in the land to where she swam."

Flaco Navaja, who grew up with a Marines poster on his wall, talked about his awakening to the world's realities one summer, with a friend who gave him reading material such as "The Pedagogy of the Oppressed." He talked about how a relative of his returned from Vietnam and burned his uniform, reflecting his growing anger that summer.

Palestinian poet Suheir Hammad, recited a poem about her mother telling her to "take me home when I'm dead."

The middle section of the performance, "love poems," was probably the part of the show Dartmouth students could identify with the most. Lemon gave a stirring poem about how he doesn't like love poems because his first love ended badly.

One highlight of the show was performed by a male and female poet and set in a dance club in the early hours of the morning. The poets were alternately talking to themselves, dancing to "music that about makes you forget how lonely you are" and considering picking someone up because "somebody is better than nobody," all while their "lonely hearts are pounding."

Another poem about love included Tamika Harper's poem about condom use, citing "the first rule of nature: self-preservation."

On the subject of self-preservation, one of the highlights of the evening was Lemon's poem about moving forward despite what other people tell you. He described how "Sean swam on, Sean swam on" while the Titanic was sinking behind him and the people on board were beckoning him to come back. He concluded with "The Titanic sunk, and Sean was in Harlem damn well drunk."

The poet Poetri generally functioned to change up the heavy themes of the rest of the performance with lighter themes. He gave poems on addiction to Krispy Kreme doughnuts, love at first sight with someone who turned out to be a man and road-rage against a 103-year-old woman.

Another poet, Black Ice, with his hard demeanor, had a lurking anger about him that burst forth at various points in different poems. All his anger seemed to be summoned during the show's last individual poem, when he screamed to drug dealers and gang members, "is you're s--- (pointing to his crotch) bigger than mine?"

Several poems talked about the post Sept. 11, 2001 world, criticized the Bush administration for the Iraqi war and accused politicians of using "fear to buy votes." "New York will never be the same..." recited Chin : "...this generation will remember everything."

And for every member of this generation, Def Poetry Jam provided insightful lyricism and reality.

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