Last Friday, the 4th floor of the UC building was filled with voices telling stories of pain, the effects of diasporas, love, family, pride, empathy, race, gun violence and much more at the USF’s Lyricist Lounge. When I first arrived to Lyricist Lounge I had no preconceived ideas about what the night was going to be like. However on instinct, the tone set for the evening was unlike any other space I had been in before.
Presented as a brave space, I could immediately feel the lack of judgment amongst the audience half an hour before the event. The venue certainly enhanced this aura, because of the intimate space that was shared between every person in attendance. All the walls were torn down, there was no space to be ignored, unmoved, or uninterested and this was all before someone got on stage.
The lyricist lounge was setup to invoke the culture of art expression in Hip Hop and the Bay area. Alejandra Mojica, the former MC of Lyricist Lounge, says, “It’s a space that is created, and it is very intentional. Lounge is a place of art expression but art comes in different forms so there is spoken word, there is a DJ, and visual art. There are different elements of art expression.” DJ Devarock and the performers who rapped were obviously part of this but also, as Sarah Toutant, the current MC, notes, “Hip hop and spoken word are forms of expression that a lot of us use to get away from everyday trials. In general it is a place to be unapologetic about who they are.”
The intimacy between artist and audience was especially compelling as I watched audience members emerge from the crowd to become a distinct performer and then go back into the audience so someone else could do the same. The closeness did not stop at just the setup of the stage (or lack thereof). It called for those barriers to be broken down by its attendees. Toutant, told the audience that “Poetry is not a spectator sport.” At Lyricist Lounge, the audience is strongly encouraged to be apart of the community.
If this sounds daunting, trust me, there is no way to be in attendance of the event and not find something that resonates so deeply in you that you won’t snap, dance, or scream out phrases like “Go in poet”, “Don’t be nice”, “Be nasty!” These were all heard before during and after the first poem titled, “An Open Letter to Donald Trump” written and performed by Adam Hernandez.
The line up consistently had poetry that moved the audience, like a piece by Lony Sekona about his childhood in Virginia that had the audience in awe with the combination of his crisp flow and startling lyrical power. When Jazzlyn Pastor said the line, “Whose image do they adore? Theirs or someone else’s?” waves of snaps enforced the admiration for her poem on self-esteem. Or Caleb Smith when he spoke of the microaggressions he witnessed his biracial friend encounter. Audience member, Khadijah Powell says that she has no predetermined thoughts when it comes to seeing the poets, “When you step on the mic and you spit I feel genuinely connected.”
Towards the end of the night a poet named Ole said, “In solidarity we must resist.” The poetry was proof that we cannot only resist but must be resilient to the things that threaten to beat us down and turn them into forms of expression to be shared with our community.
Photo courtesy of Talia Jade Sourkes