Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
“I don’t care where love shows up, I’m gonna take it, and so should you … unless it’s a giraffe,” spoke RhapsodE, member of the Philadelphia-based Philly Spoken Soul Collective, at a performance this past Friday in honor of the Kathryn Morgan Poetry Fest.
A spoken word performer, RhapsodE has been featured nationwide at events including the Philadelphia International Arts Expo, the Minneapolis B Girl Be Festival, the Toronto Urban Music Festival, and venues such as The Black Lily, October Gallery, the Clef Club and World CafÃ© Live.
After a poetry reading by two Swarthmore students, Alaina Brown ’13 and Jacqueline Bailey-Ross ’12, RhapsodE entered, and her presence filled the stage. Her first piece began silently, marked only by movements as she cleaned the ground on which she would stand while singing for change to come. This act of cleaning was how she opened and closed the night.
From poems about love to poems about making mistakes, RhapsodE displayed a talent for transitioning between reciting her works and engaging in a comfortable dialogue with her audience. Elizabeth Bryant ’13 described the presence in RhapsodE creates: “Over the course of her performing this really rich atmosphere had built up in the room to a point where, at the end of the night, we were all so comfortable within this warm, familiar space that we had created.”
In the process of integrating her work as an artist with telling personal stories, RhapsodE explained that a motivation for her poetry was playing the role of a “big sister.” She said that she wanted to inspire others to learn to recover from making mistakes, and to use poetry to give voice to her own educational opportunities—the events she’s lived through, overcoming obstacles and the growth she has undergone.
Several pieces performed intended to capture RhapsodE’s views of her femininity. Growing up with five sisters, her mother and four aunts, she watched them grow, stumble and make mistakes, living all their pains through them in order to avoid those very same mistakes. RhapsodE performed pieces highlighting the issues of being a woman, and understanding one’s own value so as to never be trampled upon. Through this, RhapsodE formed a bond with her audience: “I still love love” she said as she has loved and learned and will love again, encouraging her listeners to do the same. “I wrote this poem as much for me as I did for you”.
“It wasn’t like your typical poetry reading where there are all these emotions you feel for a certain line, but you [feel you] have to restrain yourself from reacting, or even clapping at the end. With RhapsodE, the audience was engaged. She wanted to hear your reactions,” Bryant said.
As RhapsodE performed, she combined the two loves of her life: writing and theater. She narrated her experience discovering spoken word, after attending and performing at open mic nights, to relay the message that “some things in life change you; you find it and you would do it without being paid.” From narrating her first witnessing of spoken word to the naming of herself “RhapsodE” to the incredible experience of finding the words for a performance in her dream, she tried to inspire her listeners to fulfill their passion. “That’s how I know where my gift comes from, that’s how I know I don’t do this alone,” she said.
In her final poem, RhapsodE asked the audience to close their eyes and sing with her. “I want to be whole, I gotta be whole,” she sang, offering a resounding communal chant as a parting gift.