A few weeks ago, WORD!, a slam poetry group founded to provide an open forum for oppressed voices, invited the 2014 Youth Poet Laureate Ramya Ramana to come to Brown. What ensued was a series of amazing performances by Brown students, followed by Ramya performing a few of her poems. Ramya, 18, is the winner of the New York Knicks Poetry Slam, a student at St. John’s University, and an activist for equality. She has been traveling the five boroughs of New York to engage with her peers and emphasize the importance of civic engagement. She is an extremely accomplished, yet humble person who not only moved the crowd with her work, but was also moved by the poems of Brown students. Basically, she’s awesome. The performances were enlightening to say the least. Here are the five things I learned from WORD! and Ramya:
1. Nothing is off limits. The poets explored a vast range of topics in their performances. The ten female Brown poets discussed deeply personal issues, societal problems, and comedic situations. Poems about the destruction of one’s hometown in a foreign land were followed by poems of tantalizing love. A performance about the oppression of women in Indian society was followed by a tragicomic poem about regret. Poems of racism were followed by poems describing the vulnerability fostered by living in oppressive environments. The depth and breadth of topics covered was refreshing. It gave every audience member a lot to ponder as they wandered off to their Friday evenings.
2. Don’t be nice. Before each performance, poets would stand center stage, taking in one last breath before sharing their thoughts with a crowd full of strangers. Before they would start, audience members and fellow WORD! poets would yell “Don’t be nice!” This event was truly a safe space in which individuals were encouraged to ruthlessly analyze, criticize, and engage with their topic of choice. They shouldn’t let the fear of insulting or offending others stop them from truly expressing themselves. The sentiment behind these words was not controversial, but genuine. As long as poets spoke from their hearts, their messages would be well-received. It was a call to be honest. It is this honesty that made the poems so powerful. I learned that open communication does wonders for conveying a difficult message and for hopefully creating progress.