Breaking the Silence: Poets Speak About Intimate Partner Violence at Recent Spoken Word Performance

By Heather Rolph

“How do you call it trauma when you asked for it?” said local poet Ashley Cornelius during a recent event on campus. “How do you explain a violation when it started with consent?”

Photo by Joe Keat

Accompanied by finger-snapping and murmurs of agreement from the audience, Cornelius—a member of the Colorado Springs group Poetry719 and Colorado’s Women of the World Poetry Slam 2018 representative—performed two poems in Kathryn Mohrman Theater this Monday as the opening speaker for a spoken word performance organized by The Wellness Resource Center, Colorado College’s spoken word troupe SpeakEasy, and Poetry719 to encourage conversations around Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

“Know that your voice will break the silence, and we are always here to listen,” Cornelius concluded her first piece, echoing the goal that organizers had in mind when planning the event.

Spoken word is a way to “make people talk about something that’s not usually discussed,” said Montana Bass ’18, a health education paraprofessional at the Wellness Resource Center and one of the main organizers of the event. “It’s delivered in a package that’s interesting and meaningful … [it’s] a good way to inspire emotions and an emotional response.” 

Last year, the Wellness Resource Center put together a similar event, featuring celebrated poet and sexual assault prevention educator Olivia Gatwood. Based on its success, they expanded the event this year, bringing together multiple on-campus and community groups that work with identity-based violence, healing, and mental health for a pre-performance reception. The goal was to provide opportunities for people to learn more about issues like domestic violence and, more importantly, to help people prevent domestic violence in their own and other’s lives. 

“There are opportunities to keep showing up,” Bass said. “I hope people find ways to keep engaging.” 

To draw people to the event, the organizers booked several spoken-word poets, including Cornelius, SpeakEasy co-director Rayn Fox ’20, and SpeakEasy member Jacqueline Nkhonhera ’20. The main speaker at the event, however, was renowned poet Dominique Christina, two-time winner of the Women of the World slam competition and a nationally-recognized poet and performer.

“Bring the lights up,” Christina said as she stepped onto the stage. “I bet you thought you could hide, huh?” 

Christina’s work draws on her family’s history in Civil Rights activism and her position as a woman of color who suffered traumatic sexual abuse as a child. Her spoken word performances are intense and often emotionally triggering. She does not hesitate to talk about difficult subjects, and she brings her raw emotions and personal experience into her work. 

“We think a hashtag is radical,” she said in an introduction to one of her pieces. “There are certain acts of violence we don’t even pick our heads up for anymore because they’re normalized.” 

But perhaps Christina’s most important message is one that she began her performance with: “I don’t feel like a victim at all. I feel victorious.” 

It’s a message that many of the performers before her conveyed through their poems, and an integral part of Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Healing from past trauma—and learning how to prevent it in the future—is a central mission for the WRC, and one that they intend to emphasize in upcoming programming for the month, including the annual Consent at CC poster competition, an LGBTQIA+ sex ed. event, and a Dating After Abuse workshop. 

  

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