When Poetry Speaks Louder Than Words: CMC’s Spoken Word Coffee House

On Sept. 29, spoken word artists from Hollywood came to CMC’s McKenna Auditorium to share some of their poems.

“Spoken word can be anything that’s uttered in the microphone… If the audience can see that you’re genuine with your words, I’d like to think they’d like to listen to that,” spoken word artist Fisseha Moges explained. Moges, along with Venessa Marco and Gimel Hooper (a.k.a. Brutha Gimel) are regulars at Da Poetry Lounge in Los Angeles, one of the largest weekly poetry venues in the country. Every Tuesday night at 9 p.m., they give performances to crowds of 200 to 250 people.

Spoken word poetry began to evolve in the 1980s as poetry slams gained popularity. Now, the movement has moved into the realm of television. The show Def Poetry features established and up-and-coming spoken word artists and gives them a space to present their poems. Spoken word gives people an outlet outside of academic institutions, and allows them to comment on topics that may be out of bounds in more structured poetry.

Moges had been writing for a while before discovering spoken word at an open mic lounge he visited with a friend.

“I just thought that I was writing. At the time I wasn’t thinking like I was writing a poem. I was just thinking, I need something to write down to get out,” he said. Moges has now been performing consistently for the past six years.

Gimel is a DJ and emcee, working for clubs, mobile functions like birthday parties, and TV shows. He discovered spoken word while spinning at a poetry event. As a rapper, Gimel said he saw himself “as a more poetic-style emcee, so seeing people do poetry and spoken word, it’s not that different, I just gotta slow down, not necessarily have to do it on the beat.”

Gimel says he writes about a variety of topics that move him. “Whether they be in the news, whether they be in conversations, or when I’m at another show, I hear something, and then it happens, I get the inspiration,” he said.

When asked about the performance aspect of spoken word, Marco admits, “I think some people are naturals at it. Other people definitely need help with it. I was one of those people who definitely needed help with it.” To improve, Marco took workshops with Natalie Patterson, a teacher at Collective Voices, a foundation that supports different art workshops.

For those considering trying spoken word, Marco has some recommendations: “Visit venues… and you should stick to writing. It’s a muscle; you have to develop it. It’s good to write every day and read every day.”

Kenneth Cunanan CM ’15, became inspired by Def Poetry videos on Youtube and was excited to hear that CMC was hosting a spoken word event. After seeing the performance, he said, “I’m probably just going to go to the lounge first, scope out the scene, and then try to write my own poetry.”

Hashim Jamil CM ’15 said, “Honestly, in high school when it came to studying poetry I was never thrilled about it, but spoken word is different because the rhyming involved with it, and just how engaged the actual poets are, really make it powerful.”

Jamil revealed that though he found all the poets to be excellent, he “really liked Gimel, just because he was really engaging. I liked how he was really involved, like with his rhymes.”

Cunanan enjoyed the show, but conceded, “Spoken word usually works best when there is a huge crowd like yelling at the poets, and people are making like ‘Oh yeahs’ and that kind of stuff. So, there wasn’t anything wrong with the poets themselves, but the audience was just kind of weak… so as a result the atmosphere wasn’t as intense as I expected it to be.”

For those who are interested, other venues that regularly feature spoken word include Brass Knuckles in L.A. and A Mic & Dim Lights in Pomona. There may also be a similar spoken word event on campus next semester.

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