This is my face / Framed by my short coarse hair that I started loving too late / Sparse eyebrows sit insecurely above puzzled eyes / My mouth, barely wider than my nose / My ears, home to seven of the nine holes on my body / The only pieces of me that actually belong to me.”
Fifth-year UC Santa Cruz student and Rainbow Theater member Serene Tseng performed this original poem, “Facemask Casket,” last Saturday night and left the audience electrified.
Kinetic Poetics Project (KPP) hosted its 14th Annual Spoken Word Festival on Feb. 3-4 in the Porter Dining Hall. About 100 audience members watched as the top five scoring poets earned the chance to perform at the College Union Poetry Slam Invitational (CUPSI) in Chicago, the national competition for collegiate slam poetry.
The festival also featured Rainbow Theater, UCSC African American Theater Arts Troupe (AATAT) and Cameron Awkward-Rich, who shared works from his new collection of poetry, “Transit.”
The event was a collaborative space for professional and student poets to unite and express collective struggles — like the multifaceted concept of love.
“[Spoken word] brings to the forefront an emotion that I’m feeling at a regular level, and it magnifies it or intensifies it,” Tseng said.
Tseng’s poem “Facemask Casket” explores her journey to self-love. Racism and misogyny obstruct her path, and she writes poetry to overcome societal issues and reclaim her identity.
“Love for myself can influence my writing,” Tseng said. “[It’s about] envisioning a different version of me or an improved version of me that I hope to become one day or hope that others can see in me one day.”
Spoken word provides poets with an authentic way of expressing themselves, whether it’s speaking about self-love or romantic love.
“I don’t believe in soulmates, so I do find myself getting caught up in, ‘I’m never going to find someone’ or that kind of extremity of love,” said first-year student and new KPP member Haley Ledezma.
She performed an original poem titled “Butterflies,” about the uncontrollable reaction she feels when she sees her crush.
“I’m not sure what [romantic love] is,” Ledezma said. “I use my writing to figure out my feelings.”
Because poetry turns abstract emotions into words, it can be therapeutic, Ledezma said. Yet it’s also a talent that takes time and practice. Her experience on KPP and performances at biweekly poetry slams in the Cowell Fireside Lounge have sharpened her skills.
“Knowing that there’s a slam every other week has helped me want to write more and being able to see how other people perform has helped me figure out what I want to do and how I want to perform,” Ledezma said.
The poets touch on various topics in a collective space, from political corruption to personal experiences. One poet, Chris Dory, spoke about the cover-up of the Armenian Genocide, which earned him a spot at the CUPSI competition in Chicago.
Although the poets were center stage, the audience was the backbone. The crowd was boisterous with snaps and shouts as poets laid their hearts out.
“The audience and the feel in general when people are doing spoken word is very loving because you’re listening to someone express themselves,” said second-year audience member, Sabina Wildman.
The poets were scored by five audience members on a scale from zero to 10. The crowd’s support did not falter, objecting to scores of seven or lower.
“These poets are so brave to be able put out so much of their personal, private issues,” Wildman said. “It’s helpful for the rest of us who might have similar issues or know people with them because it breaks a lot of stigma about these issues that people usually don’t talk about in public.”