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Local writers take stage at poetry event

Jahman+Hill+dances+to+one+of+his+three+poems+in+front+of+the+audience+at+Monarch+Espresso+Bar.+CW%2F+Scarlet+VanMeter
Jahman Hill dances to one of his three poems in front of the audience at Monarch Espresso Bar. CW/ Scarlet VanMeter

Jahman Hill dances to one of his three poems in front of the audience at Monarch Espresso Bar. CW/ Scarlet VanMeter

Jahman Hill dances to one of his three poems in front of the audience at Monarch Espresso Bar. CW/ Scarlet VanMeter

Meghan Mitchell, Assistant Culture Editor

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On a stage illuminated by string lights, six performers conveyed their separate powerful, poignant or playful messages.

This inaugural event, the first Pure Products Open Mic Night of the year, took place at Monarch Espresso Bar Thursday Sept. 20 and offered writers the opportunity to read their original works of poetry and prose. The speakers were hosted in the courtyard behind the popular coffee shop. Brian Whalen, an instructor in UA’s English department, emceed the event.

Jahman Hill, a graduate student studying women’s studies, presented a particularly expressive performance. One of his three pieces, which were focused on racial injustice, was accompanied by a rhythmic dance.

“Most of the poetry I do is performed,” Hill said. “Each time I do the performance the movement is different because it’s as if the movement itself of the body is like a prayer.”

The movement aspect of Hill’s poem was inspired by the beat-drop in his favorite song, “Never Catch Me” by Flying Lotus. Hill said his dance is “completely freeing,” and utilizes dance to evoke that freedom from his performance.

“So when we’re looking at death, instead of looking at it as negative, because it’s something that’s so common, especially for black people in America – we’re accustomed to death, we see it, we’re inundated with it – to flip that and see it as a freeing element, so the moment the beat drops, or, being the black body, the moment death happens, it’s like this freeing aspect where you are no longer chained to the confines of this life,” Hill said.

Hill’s work is inspired by political rhetoric, research and personal experiences.  

“I do a ton of reading and a ton of research concerning black identity and black culture,” Hill said. “I study critical race theory, my undergrad was in middle eastern relations and political science, and all of that comes in – protest rhetoric – all this stuff that I’ve done academic work on is what feeds the poetry I then write.”

Another writer, Tazi Buchholz, a sophomore majoring in English and Spanish, takes inspiration from personal experience. Buchholz shared a fairytale-like narrative depicting a young woman post-puberty, determining how to navigate a world that shames body hair.

“I just remember being in 7th grade and coming back from summer break and wearing capri pants, and there were all these girls talking about how they had been shaving and all of their legs were super smooth and everything, and I’m just like, ‘Oh my God,’” Buchoholz said. “I had no idea what shaving was, and I just felt so embarrassed. I started wearing long pants all the time.”

Whalen moderated the event, adding jokes, quotes and anecdotes throughout the night. He encouraged a relaxed atmosphere so readers would feel comfortable speaking. However, that didn’t stop some performance jitters. Hill said he takes his glasses off to feel less anxious while he speaks.

“If I make eye-contact while I’m performing I’m like ‘oh no, this is very weird,’” Hill said.  “If I can really see somebody’s eyes, I get very nervous.”

The audience, who overflowed the seating area, didn’t seem to notice any nerves. Owen Post, a junior majoring in psychology and an attendee of Open Mic Night, said the speakers had an impact on him.

“There’s no shortage of talent at this event, and everyone who’s performed tonight uncovered a little sliver of the human condition,” Post said. “I think after hearing all these fabulous poets, we’re all leaving this event a little wiser, a little more thoughtful and a lot more inspired.”

Whalen said he considered Open Mic Night a success in many ways, noting his appreciation for the people who chose to come support the readers and appreciate literature.

“The fact that so many people actually showed up and to be here and to listen, that’s exciting,” Whalen said.

The next Pure Products Open Mic Night is Oct. 18 at 7 p.m. at Monarch Espresso Bar.

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Local writers take stage at poetry event