Snaps and applause echoed in Gasson 100 on Saturday evening, as eight of Boston College’s slam poets performed for SLAMnesty: Uncensored.
Sponsored by Amnesty International, the event’s goal was “exercising the right to freedom of expression through spoken word.” Each piece focused on different themes, such as feminism, suicide, and immigration, but collectively, the poetry of the night sought to “bring topics not normally talked about to light,” as Genie Han, A&S ’15, said in her introduction.
The atmosphere encouraged honesty and intimacy, while the poets spoke about deeply personal issues and made themselves vulnerable to an unknown but eager audience. Guards were down-ears, minds, and hearts were open.
Amanda Espiritu, A&S ’14, was the first to take the mic. Her opening poem, dealing with abuse, was sincere and raw. It was created from pieces of real interviews she had conducted. “No one dares draw attention to it / It’s not talked about,” she said. “We have to act to make a change … We’re worth more than they say … Verbal or physical it’s not okay-abuse will never be okay.”
Espiritu’s second poem possessed the same quality of candor. She argued that the media fails to portray beauty correctly, making women obsess over things such as “bad hair days,” make-up, and thigh gaps. “Your beauty is in your actions … Be sugar, be spice / Be more than everything nice,” she concluded.
Like Espiritu, other students were also concerned with issues of self-image and femininity. Haley Kerr, A&S ’17, shared three of her poems, one of which, titled, “Chocolate Chip Banana Bread,” had to do with her understanding of her sister’s anorexia. It was “written about beauty when I was 14,” she said, “when my idea of beauty was very skewed.” Kerr’s poetry dealt with heavy topics but explored them through captivating language and vivid images-her other pieces were “Fireflies and Liberation” and “Hope Killed The Ice Phoenix.”
Lauren Audi, A&S ’14, centered some of her work on femaleness, handling the subject with rich metaphoric language just as Kerr’s did. Her poem “Lady Bird” was her most intense-she spoke about feeling trapped in her body, saying, “I did not ask for this cage,” while wishing she could “fly away liberated from the perch.” Audi’s writing was striking in and of itself. It wasn’t interested “in preaching,” she said, but more “about beauty.” This focus on beauty was apparent throughout her entire performance-in a piece she delivered half in Spanish and half in English, as well as in “Cherry Blossom,” a piece about coming to terms with senseless deaths, like Jordan Davis’s, Trayvon Martin’s, and her close friend’s from BC.
Death was a prevalent theme in many of the poems. Reading a short story that tried to tackle a number of big issues, including abuse, bullying, and suicide, freshman Karina Herrera ended her recitation with the startling image of a woman killing herself with a bullet to the head.
The last student performer of the night, Daniel de Leon, A&S ’15, also spoke on suicide, but in a much more direct way. He shared two poems that he hadn’t let many people hear before, but he explained why he felt it was necessary they were heard now. “We don’t like to think about death,” he said.
“We find things that make us happy instead.” His first piece, “Suicide Thoughts,” personified these thoughts by relating them through a first person speaker. The technique had a bold effect on the poem, arresting the audience’s attention as he ended with the provocative line, “I am a suicidal thought-that has become another suicide.”
Whether they spoke about death and depression, beauty and femininity, or something else entirely, the poets possessed a close connections to their works. Fatin Yousif, A&S ’15, for example, read something she had written for her father. Her eloquent and personal ode was one of separation, loss, and redemption-of how although her father left his home in Sudan, he still “harbors his country’s music in his lungs.” She described how she and her brother sometimes forget to ask their father about his past, but also how they try to keep it alive. “Our father’s stories,” she said poignantly, “are not foreign to us.”
Jovani Hernandez, A&S ’16, also read a poem about immigration, dedicating it to his brother, who had come to visit and was sitting in the audience. Tentatively titled, “His Story,” his poem was one of the strongest of the evening. It dealt with the obstacles a family faces when it leaves its home to live in America. He spoke about being placed in ESL classes, for example, and being discriminated against “because we read a little slower-I write slow,” he said. “But I write at the speed a Latino’s heart starts racing when they see their loved ones / Or the movement of their feet when their favorite song comes on / Or their willingness to pack everything and leave to a foreign country.” Closing the poem off, he said intently, “I can write fast / It just has to be our story.”
In addition to the spoken word pieces, SLAMnesty also featured a dance performance by female step team F.I.S.T.S. and The Black Hearted, a pair of student rappers featured on the recently released Chorduroy album. They sang three songs-one about vices, one about loss, and their single “Drunken Poets.”
Showcasing the breadth of talent at BC, SLAMnesty offered students an opportunity to explore hard issues in a welcoming environment. It proved students’ willingness not only to speak about and but also to listen to things that aren’t often discussed openly-it proved the power of the spoken word.