Lyricist Lounge: Come As You Are

Third-year engineering major, Beatrice Johnson-Drysdale, takes the stage at Lyricist Lounge. PHOTO COURTESY OF BRANDON GAGANTE

“Go in poet!” yelled audience members between sounds of snaps, rhythmic lyrics, and the soft hum of jazz and R&B music on Sept. 16 at the Cultural Center’s first Lyricist Lounge of the year. The monthly open mic event allows students to emcee and perform original poems and song lyrics for friends, classmates, and fellow writers at USF. This month’s theme was “Where I’m From,” an ode to the diverse origins of USF’s student body. 

“A lot of people don’t have fond memories of their home, but it makes them who they are into a person,” said first-year nursing major Tayon Swift.  “It’s like a forced connection they have, whether they grew up well or not. I am inspired by these poems.”

The night kicked off with an introduction from Lyricist Lounge and Arts Intern and host of Friday’s event, fourth-year international business major Brandon Gagante. Gagante introduced the audience to the event’s house rules and rituals, outlining the culture of the Lyricist Lounge. To new performers, the crowd yelled, “Welcome poet!” and to returning poets from past Lyricist Lounges, “Welcome back poet!” When introducing themselves and their pieces, performers would tell the audience if their poem was new or old, to which the audience would delightfully respond with the phrases “New shit!” or “Old shit!” 

Some performers used the event as an opportunity to amplify their communities’ issues and rally for change using the power of lyricism. Graduate student Janise Powell verbalized the emotional disconnect between having pride in where she is from and not feeling accepted in a racist America as a Black woman at the same time. “America never loves me,” she said, receiving several snaps and hoots in agreement from the audience.

Between poets, the impassioned crowd took a moment to sing along to Frank Ocean’s “Thinkin About You” as students swayed their hands in the air, serenading their neighbors. Writers and audience members mingled, curating friendships and learning from one another’s artistry.

Gagante was excited about the turnout. “My expectations were blown through the roof. I loved seeing this whole community come through and learn about each other through poetry. The purpose is to get students to see each other on an authentic level.”

Last year, the Lyricist Lounge was only held twice a semester. This year, it will happen on a monthly basis, and the next one is on Oct. 7. Looking forward to fresh faces, regular performers had some advice for anyone struggling to find their voice.

“I encourage new poets to face the things they don’t want to talk about themselves as well, with pride and hope,” said Gagante. 

To close out a night of art, enlightenment, and community, the eccentric group banded together to carry out Lyricist Lounge tradition by participating in a unity clap. Inspired by solidarity between Filipino and Latine farmers in the United Farmworkers Movement, the tradition is meant to symbolize togetherness despite differences in life experience. The clap started out slow, quickening like a heart-beat. At the peak of the clap, the crowd joined together, yelling “Isang Bagsak!” Tagalog for “If one falls, we all fall.” 

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