A small but hearty crowd of students gathered at Kitao last Saturday to listen to poems and the occasional rap and song. The open mic was hosted by Swarthmore’s Organization for Low Income Students and Our Art Spoken in Soul — Swarthmore’s slam poetry organization — and featured Philadelphia slam poet Savon.
“I was happy with the event: the feature was wonderful and well-received, a lot of Swatties participated in the open mic, we had attendance from Tri-Co,” said George Abraham ’17, President of OASIS, “and in general, artistic communities were brought together.”
The intimate setting provided by Kitao’s cozy seating arrangement and bright lights allowed for people to feel the energy from each performer intensely. There was no elevated stage, which added to the warm, personal energy to the room. Poems covered a wide range of topics, including queerness and sexuality, self-love, loneliness, and the fear of geese. The audience reacted with fervent snaps, occasional sighs and other responses from the slam community. The event attracted both fans of poetry and interested newcomers.
“I’ve never seen slam poetry before,” said Mariko Kamiya ’19, “it was cool to see how there’s such a strong community and customs that come with it.”
Some performers embraced the sensitivity of their topics and gave emotional performances that were profoundly felt by the audience.
“The vibe was very supportive, especially given that a lot of the performances were sensitive in material,” said Abraham.
Amongst the performers were members of the College Union Poetry Slam Invitational teams from both Swarthmore and Bryn Mawr. These poets came on with great energy and the two hosts and main organizers, Abraham and Catherine Velez ’17, who are past CUPSI competitors, kept the night going with high positive energy despite performing beautifully personal poems in between. Abraham performed a poem about loneliness and his identity, while Velez performed a moving poem on self-love that brought shivers down people’s spines.
“Performing for me has become a source of self-validation. If I can get up in front of people I don’t know and lay bare all of my insecurities, I know I’m achieving some kind of sense of self and comfort with that,” reflected Velez, “Performing that particular poem was really empowering, because I didn’t do it for the audience — I did it for me. I have better-written poems, things that would have elicited a more enthusiastic reaction from people. But I did this for me, and it was very cathartic.”
When the featured artist, Savon, came on the stage at the end, the room came alive with laughter and the audience was entranced.
“I was surprised that the energy stayed high throughout the entire night, in a lot of open mics, by the end the energy dies down a bit,” said Abraham, “but with our feature Savon closing the show, I was happy to see great crowd response and energy till the end.”
Savon’s stage presence was contagious as he interspersed his poetry with hilarious jokes about his life. His performance was personal and relatable. At one point he told the audience how, after a girl he had just met in Oakland rejected him, she asked if it would make him feel better if she kissed him. He proceeded to sing the song “Telegraph Ave“ by Childish Gambino because it was the song he was listening to while driving away in his car. Savon also gave a dramatic rendition of Aerosmith’s “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing”, admitting that it “really got him every time.”
Savon’s set list included a wide range of poems that catered to all sorts of audiences. One of his poems was a cento of Kanye West songs, which is a poem comprised of lines from other poems and mixed together. Immediately afterwards, he performed a personal piece about his great grandmother, who has Alzheimer’s.
“I expected a little bit when I got to Swarthmore’s campus because it was kind of Hogwarts-y” said Savon afterwards, “I didn’t really know how this was going to turn out because I am not familiar with this territory, but upon entering the venue and seeing the performers in the open mic, I felt much, much better. The room was very live, very welcoming and I definitely warmed up to the crowd.”
After a pause, and a fan asking to be his friend he laughed and said, “I’d love to be everybody’s friend here.”
“Savon was cool and he really kept it real while still being very professional,” reflected Kamiya, “I felt like as an audience we really got to know him as a person and he would be a great person to hang out with.”
The audience experienced an array of emotions from the performers, with laughter, quiet seriousness and moments of silent content.
“The event met my expectations in every way,” said Abraham, “Swarthmore can look forward to similar open mics with features in the future with OASIS and another group co-sponsoring the event!”