On Thursdays, a New Phonic Phenomenon in WSRN

The resonant hum of a tenor saxophone underlies the fluctuations in rhythm and sound of a chorus of small drums, strings, and vocal expressions. Recited words trade meaning back and forth with a long-necked didgeridoo, as if emboldening each other to be themselves. Sound waves echo between multi-colored walls engulfed in artwork and gleeful shadows. Melodies achieve fluidity in their response to a stimulating and profound ensemble. We are together in this.

Poetry Jam is emerging as a new phonic phenomenon on the Swarthmore campus. Founded two years ago by Moses Rubin ’19, this event now takes place on the first Thursday of every month on the 4th floor of Parrish Hall. Attendees may come with instruments, pre-prepared poetry, any manner of gushing inspiration, or as spectators. They should be prepared for an unorthodox artistic creation forged by a combination of spoken word, musical accompaniment, and unrelenting positivity.

The music community on campus has slowly become more prevalent and integrated over the course of the last few years, as evidenced by more frequent joint performances from various student bands. But what about the individual artists who do not presently have the material or social connections to be a part of such a group? Every person deserves a platform to express their art, and Poetry Jam seeks to be a gateway into, as well as a crucial component of, the Swarthmore music scene.

Beginning with its first meeting of the year on September 13, Rubin welcomed approximately 15 other students into the WSRN big room to share a collaborative musical experience. According to Rubin, as many as 30-40 students had attended some meetings last year, but the small-group atmosphere was very conducive to their musical project. By its nature, Poetry Jam invites any poet or musician, practiced or otherwise, to participate in a free-form compilation of recited words and accompanying rhythms and melodies. Interestingly, an original product is created every time. As Rubin explains, “The goal is to get rid of performance anxiety by overcoming performativity.” His explanation expresses how the product of these meetings are not traditional “songs,” but rather poetry accompanied by music. Without a rubric for expression, these pieces provide the freedom for all to adapt to their surroundings and improvise in unconventional ways.

The atmosphere of Poetry Jam fits perfectly with this dynamic, as Ariana Hoshino ’20, one of the attendees, explained that the event was an “inclusive and open space for creativity.” At this first meeting, Rubin began by reciting a number of written stanzas and different musicians would supplement the meaning he conveyed with melody and rhythm, freely switching instruments as time progressed. In fact, students may bring any sort of instrument, especially if its form or sound is unconventional by American musical standards; the weirder the better. As Hoshino elaborated: “There was a natural harmony to it.”

The nature of formal performances can restrict artists to a pre-prepared musical form. However, it can be particularly liberating to express one’s self with others through an ongoing medium. As one attendee, Josh Frier ‘20, explained, “I had fun. People should come when they want to experience something artistic and new. It’s more participatory than presentational.” It is this distinction that relieves the pressure of adherence to musicianship in favor of a more casual and intimate process.

The next meeting will take place in the same location on November 1st from 8-11 p.m. Rubin has indicated that he hopes the event will grow in attendance and frequency. His goal is to eventually broadcast audio from poetry jam events, seeking deeper diffusion of this particular medium into the greater campus culture. As of yet, these unique musical creations are made for the eyes and ears of attendees only.

Without any concrete expectations or pressure from participants, the expression of freedom at last has room to bloom. Through an empathetic and accommodating approach to music, poetry jam nurtures a community; hopefully, this community will continue to grow and evolve to incorporate any who have the courage to creatively express themselves through music and/or spoken word. In the words of Rubin: “It will connect you to students in a rare way within Swarthmore culture that doesn’t happen in any other academic or social setting. You have a common creation.”


Featured Image courtesy of Emma Ricci-De Lucca for The Phoenix

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