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Poetry as Peace

Last Friday, April 27, Bodies of Diversity (B.O.D.) and Word of Mouth collaborated to host an open mic night in the Babcock formal lounge. The event began with an appeal and an assurance: the former implored poets to issue content warnings for pieces that had potentially triggering material, and the latter promised that no offense would be taken should an audience member need to step out for a moment. The theme of the open mic was “Poetry as Peace,” as a part of other activities sponsored across campus for the annual Diversity Week.

One of the most notable aspects of the open mic night was the interactivity between audience and poet. Audience members, when struck by a particularly compelling line, were asked to shout “run that back!” to the reciting poet, who would then repeat the line. Kevin Compliment ’18, who was one half of the emcee duo for the evening, explained that for him, the act of reading one’s personal poetry out loud is the ultimate way to fight your inner demons. “And that’s why I act a fucking fool,” said Compliment, “because nothing makes me feel more comfortable reading than seeing other people in their own skin.”

The evening’s second host, Nicky Benya ’21, explained that an emphasis on interaction helps bring a certain energy to an otherwise passive audience. “When you connect to an audience,” explained Benya, “you feel it more. It makes for a more honest atmosphere.”

In this same way, the request for trigger warnings functions as a way to make sure both audience and poet are comfortable at a reading. “Poetry is this confrontation of your own demons,” Compliment explained. “It’s this ability to hold your personal struggles in front of a crowd and say, ‘look, I conquered this.’ It’s very empowering.” Part of this confrontation, however, can include rehashing a triggering experience, or possibly triggering a reaction from an audience member who could have a similar history battling a particular issue. “Trigger warnings make sure everyone feels safe and comfortable,” Benya said. “They help avoid discomfort and let the audience decide what they’re ready to hear.”

This emphasis on the mental and emotional safety of both the poets and their audiences lent itself to an incredibly supportive atmosphere. The open mic, which takes place two to three times a semester, was better attended than its predecessor, according to Benya, who also said that of the readers, at least two had never “spit” — or read their poetry — in front of an audience before. “People on this campus love to share,” said Benya, who credited a focus on the awareness of others as an important contributing factor to the incredibly positive work environment that B.O.D. and Word of Mouth have been able to cultivate at their open mic events.

We really love getting the space and encouraging people to come out,” said Benya. Compliment agreed, stating that there are two kinds of open mics: the kind with lots of people that is very interactive, and the kind where only seven people show up and not everyone reads. Hosting these open mic events allows for a much broader range of skills and artistry in addition to giving a more diverse style of poets to share. With the closing of the school year comes the end of open mic events and Word of Mouth meetings, which have been held every Thursday evening throughout the year. However, summer break is the perfect time for underclass students to build their own poetic repertoire to bring back to campus next semester.

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