For junior Imani Cezanne, writing poetry is like saying a prayer. She likes it to be completely silent, so she can feel the words come to her as she puts them down on paper. It was just as silent last Friday night, as she uttered the first word of her poem “Practice” at SF State’s first ever Battle of the Bay Poetry Slam.
Hosting the poetry slam where local groups can compete against each other is just one of Spoken Poetry Expressed by All Kinds’ accomplishments since it became a campus organization two years ago. Most importantly, it has created a space for student expression.
“I came from a community where poetry and open mics are a big deal; there were numerous spaces for that expression in San Diego. When I got up here I didn’t see that as much available to students, particularly on campus,” said Cezanne, who is president and co-founder of S.P.E.A.K.
So she teamed up with fellow student and friend Anthony May, and they began hosting a monthly open-mic night at The Depot where students can share and connect with one another through performances of their poetry. This event brought together a core group of people who had a similar passion for the spoken word, and it was that group of people who became the first members when S.P.E.A.K. officially became a student organization in March 2010.
Since then, the group has grown in members, hosted numerous events on campus and met several of their goals, such as being the first group ever from a California State University to join the College Unions Poetry Slam Invitational. They will head to the University of La Verne in Los Angeles County April 18 to 21 to compete.
Robert Gluck, a professor of poetry at SF State, said that performance has always been an important element of poetry and that a group like S.P.E.A.K. can bring a lot to SF State’s diverse student body.
“State is basically a commuter school and things like that, (which) are really community identified, are a fabulous addition to the campus,” Gluck said. “Students don’t just race on to campus and leave; they can find their peer groups here and find ways to express their lives, interests and beliefs.”
SF State grad student Kimberly Davalos was named “Grand Slam Champ” at last fall’s S.P.E.A.K. poetry slam finals. She uses her poetry as an outlet for her life experiences, such as trouble getting away from an ex-boyfriend, which she spoke about at Battle of the Bay.
“I always say with spoken word and poetry that why I do it isn’t because I like to do it, it’s because I need to do it to survive,” said Davalos. “It’s a way for me to express the things I can’t say in a natural everyday basis. It’s my release to be able to do that.”
Expression through spoken poetry is not only beneficial to the performer, but to the audience as well.
“Some people are frightened to talk about things they’ve been through and once people like us get up there and let them know we’ve been through the same thing, and that you don’t have to be scared to just let it out, it makes people feel so much better inside,” said Keenan Everett, biology major and secretary of S.P.E.A.K.
Freshman Maira Linares attended several spoken poetry events in her home town of Palm Springs, Calif. The Battle of the Bay was the first S.P.E.A.K. event she has attended since she moved here and she was very impressed by the work she saw from all the performers, especially those from SF State.
“It was awesome,” Linares said. “They put their real-life events into these poems and people who come to watch them really learn how to understand different types of people.”