Poetry from the pandemic: The first Lyricist Lounge held in-person since COVID-19 began

Student musician Audrey Walker performs a song during the Sept. 24 Lyricist Lounge. PHOTO BY BAILEY STEADMAN / SAN FRANCISCO FOGHORN

The Cultural Centers hosted their first Lyricist Lounge of the fall semester Sept. 24. This marked the first time that the student-run poetry slam was held on campus since the pandemic began. 

Jazz Toyama, a senior double majoring in international studies and environmental studies, led and hosted the open-mike night. As an intern at the Cultural Centers, they play a significant role in planning the event. 

“My role is coming up with the theme and ideas for the graphic, and advertising the event and hosting it,” Toyama said. In order to provide performers the opportunity to share their works  created during quarantine, the theme they chose for this year’s Lyricist Lounge was “Poetry from the Pandemic.” 

Many of the poems were about quarantine-induced exhaustion and lessons learned through the pandemic. Performers shared how they dealt with waves of pain and stress as well as how they have grown. Toyama introduced each artist to the stage by saying what they learned from quarantine such as “the little things matter” and “the world keeps on spinning.” 

“People may feel the same as I do where it’s like you’ve written all this stuff but you don’t have a place or an opportunity to share it,” Toyama said. They emphasized that they wanted to create a safe space for students to “share their writing and feel comfortable sharing their emotions.” 

Student performer Mikayla Brown, a sophomore communication studies major, said she enjoyed listening to the other poets and appreciated the ambience of the event. “I shared an original song I wrote and if I could describe the message briefly it would be ‘not wanting to say goodbye but knowing you have to.” Brown continued by saying, “Overall, it was just a wonderful night with very talented people.”

Toyama described the significance of the Lyricist Lounge being held in person again.“It’s a broader symbol at USF that things are getting back to normal and we’ll be able to have a similar college experience as we did before the pandemic hit,” they said.

Coordinator Jazz Toyama speaks at the Lyricist Lounge, held Sept. 24 in the UC. PHOTO BY BAILEY STEADMAN / SAN FRANCISCO FOGHORN

 Toyama clarified that being able to host in-person events meant a lot to them because hosting the Lyricist Lounge online during quarantine wasn’t the same. “People are less willing to talk in front of their peers online,” they said, adding that the number of attendees dropped significantly when the event was held on Zoom. 

Asia Bryant-Wilkerson, a USF alum and queer Black artist from Los Angeles, attended the event as a featured poet. Bryant-Wilkerson is a professional performer and spoken word artist, and it was their first time performing live since the pandemic hit. 

“I haven’t had a live show since January 2020, so for this to be my first in-person show since then feels like a homecoming of sorts.” Bryant-Wilkerson, alongside their friends, played a large part in the success of Lyricist Lounge before they graduated from USF in 2016. “When we started as freshmen, Lyricist Lounge would get like 12 people, and by the time we graduated, we amassed about a hundred a night.” 

Bryant-Wilkerson added that it was exciting to be back five years later. “It was nice to see the poetry and performance community here at USF grow,” they said. Their pieces consisted of sensitive topics such as mental health, race, and finding oneself. Their poetry was fueled by the emotions brought on by the pandemic. “We’ve all been stuck in the house without physical contact or communication, everyone just wants to be heard right now.” 

They also emphasized how having this space for students to be heard was transformative. “That’s the beauty of this space: everyone’s here with their notebook, all the feelings they’ve been holding on to, all the thoughts that have been sitting with them,” they said. “And it’s your time to let it go and be heard.”

  The next Lyricist Lounge will be held later in November of this year.

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