Written by Evva Parsons
With the creation of the on-campus spoken word performance troupe, SpeakEasy, this fall, the Colorado College community has developed a coherent, organized spoken word community. In the wake of a politically charged year that has highlighted political, social, and class polarization, students have begun to use the accessible, liberal platform of spoken word to react and anticipate.
SpeakEasy co-founder, Eliza Mott ’17, speaks to how the poetry department focuses on written work. While there have always been performance poets principally finding their stage in Professor Idris Goodwin’s spoken word Half Block class, a coherent community never developed. “There’s so much talent in so many different areas here,” said Mott. “When you make people buy-in and invest in [their poetry] and they’re made to work really hard at performing, people just are pushed to be really good.”
With SpeakEasy’s presence on campus, the art form not only develops for the performers, but also becomes more accessible for listeners through the blockly performances. “SpeakEasy has professionalized [poetry] and made it more of a respected art form on campus,” said SpeakEasy co-director, Nia Abram ’17. “Poetry is recognized as actual meaningful work that is trying to further social justice through an artistic lens.” The commitment of performers of all skill levels formalizes and democratizes the platform, making it open to many marginalized narratives. Experience does not limit any student’s participation in SpeakEasy.
One of SpeakEasy’s members of the 2017-18 academic year, Jacqui Nkonjera ’20, finds the community here accessible because “it’s talking, and anyone can do that. Anyone can talk,” said Nkonjera. “Spoken word as an art form but also as a form of resistance is this idea of being provided with a platform to be heard in a context you may not be heard otherwise. Spoken word provides a platform for you to be straight up and say what you want to say and engage with an audience.” She plans to carry these themes into next year, as performing creates a community in the moment between performers and audiences and shares often excluded narratives.
On a wider scale, recordings of spoken word pieces through organizations like Button Poetry have revolutionized digital access to the artistic medium, which presents a democratic platform for expression.
Spoken word artist Kyle Tran Myhre visited CC on Feb. 10. Myhre is known in the performance community as Guante, and said spoken word epitomizes the accessible, creative reaction to world events. “I acknowledge for a lot of people the idea of spoken word, slam poetry is not taken seriously,” he said, with a laughing reference to Jonah Hill’s slam poetry performance in “22 Jumpstreet.” “If you go to a general spoken word event, there is a lot of not-so-good stuff. But the reason for that for me is that it is an open, democratic space where anyone can share something at an open mic. Since anyone can sign-up to compete in a poetry slam, you get to see the not-so-good stuff and the really brilliant stuff right next to each other. There’s so much value I think in beginners and veterans and people in the middle of their process kind of bumping heads with each other, and sparking ideas off each other. Also, just on a bigger level, the idea that this is a big public community platform for us to talk about issues that we maybe don’t get to talk about otherwise.”
The interest at CC has been catalyzed by SpeakEasy, but the presence in the community and connection to the college spans beyond the troupe. CC graduate Nico Wilkinson ’16 is a spoken word poet and organizer in Colorado Springs who hosts events like “Keep Colorado Springs Queer.” Wilkinson now sits on the board for HearHere, a “non-profit organization in Colorado Springs that exists to encourage everyone to listen, write, share, and engage.” The organization holds monthly poetry slams and open mic events. “Nico is doing a lot of great things in the community, so it’s really cool to see the way in which a student can have their spoken word voice, their poetic voice, enhanced by the local community; and then find in-roads, you know, find opportunities after they graduate in the city,” Professor Idris Goodwin described of Wilkinson’s relationship to the community.
The connections graduates like Wilkinson have to the community, while maintaining a presence at the College, helps integrate the two entities. A really cool part of what SpeakEasy does is partnering with HearHere, and there is hope that the communities collaborate further in the future.