Behind the Scenes of the KPP Festival

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Jacqueline Grohs (left) shares her poetry with fellow KPP organizer Alexandra Moskow (right). Photo by Gabrielle Garcia.
Jacqueline Grohs (left) shares her poetry with fellow KPP organizer Alexandra Moskow (right). Photo by Gabrielle Garcia.

Glossophobia — the fear of public speaking — ranks among the top terrors in the United States. But this isn’t the case for poet and fourth-year Jacqueline Grohs of the Kinetic Poetics Project (KPP). One of the six students who plans and organizes KPP, Grohs gets on stage and performs slam poetry in front of a crowd of students and Santa Cruz residents.

“That’s what has been retaining me on campus — KPP. It has been the only way that I feel comfortable enough to stay here,” Grohs said. “It has been a way for me to realize that I am important and [that] my words do matter, and that people care.”

KPP holds biweekly slams at the Cowell Fireside Lounge, which lead up to the KPP Festival. This year’s KPP Festival will mark the organization’s 12th anniversary. Tariq El-Gabalawy, a UCSC alumnus, recalls his first experience participating in past KPP slams as both a performer and an organizer.

“It’s like a whirlwind of emotion until it’s over,” El-Gabalawy said. “It’s like being in the ocean and getting pummeled by a wave, and then standing up after it’s over.”

El-Gabalawy qualified the first time he read a poem on a Wednesday night. He performed at the KPP Festival after being encouraged by his friends to get up on stage at his first slam. After placing eighth at the festival, he became more involved and began organizing.

Billy Butler, a third-year at UCSC, has also grown as a performer and organizer alongside Grohs. Butler’s experience with KPP, however, predates his time at UCSC. He found the organization’s website while researching colleges in high school.

“Slam poetry is great because it can connect with the audience,” Butler said. “It’s great when it doesn’t have to be [about knowing] the history of a specific form of poetry, or be a well-read academic.”

The slams have a committed turnout, with visitors leaving Cowell booming with life, with stomping feet, snapping fingers and outdoor cyphers, or a combination of freestyles and beatbox sounds.

KPP organizer Grohs said the slams are born out of a necessity for expression in the community. Slams are free and everyone is welcome to watch or perform. Grohs also discussed the safety of the space, where people listen to the spoken word journey of brave poets with a careful ear.

“Poetry is like graffiti. It’s street art. It’s the poetry of the people,” Grohs said. “It’s a community of artists who express themselves with each other. It’s public art that reaches out to every single person. It’s not away in some museum, hidden for the elite or people who think they know what art is.”

This year’s festival will feature two special guests, women of color poets Porsha O and UCSC alumna Terisa Siagatonu. Other featured performances include Haluan Hip-Hop, Rainbow Theater and the African American Theater Arts Troupe. The KPP Festival takes place Jan. 30 through Feb. 1 at the Porter Dining Hall at 8 p.m.