On Saturday night, the Black Student Union (BSU) held their annual Poetry Jam. Featuring two performers, Jasmine Mans and Alysia Harris, it was an exciting event that brought poetry lovers from all ends of campus together.
“It’s a tradition that has been going on for every Black History Month,” said Victoria Lewis, the president of BSU and a senior majoring in psychology.
The night’s first headliner, Mans — a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison — is well-known for using her art to speak out against the actions of black icons, particularly in the hip-hop industry. Her incorporation of popular lyrics into her poetry was well-received by the crowd, as snaps could be heard after familiar lines.
“It’s important to address those in the limelight,” Mans said. “I’m a hip-hop fan and it’s something that I think about often. My medium is poetry and I want to talk about rap.”
Many audience members were anticipating one of Mans’ most popular poems, “Footnotes for Kanye,” which has over 35,000 views on Youtube. Some even came to the event just to hear the popular piece with statements like, “Do you know how many kids at the protest had your sneakers on? None of them. Do you know how many of your songs were played at the protest? All of them.”
The poet covered a wide range of themes during her performance, from appropriation to thoughts of a mother raising a black son. Sheleasa Ward, a senior majoring in geography, was glad she got to see Mans perform.
“I wanted to support black artists,” Ward said. “She’s amazing. Nina Simone, Lauryn Hill-type vibe.”
The event’s second act, Harris, graduated from the University of Pennsylvania, where she was featured in the university’s spoken word collective in 2007. She went on to graduate with a Masters in Fine Arts (MFA) in creative writing from New York University and is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in linguistics from Yale University.
At the beginning of each poem, Harris explained how the specific moments in her life inspired what she wrote, and incorporated some humor into her performance. Many know Harris for a slam poem titled, “That Girl,” but on Saturday, she performed the popular poem’s follow-up, “This Woman,” which described her seven-year long journey from being a struggling girl to becoming the strong person she is today. The poem spoke to the many hardships women face during their journey into womanhood, from self-deprecation to getting over an unhealthy relationship.
The event also featured talent from Binghamton University students. A star of the show was Lindsay Young — vice president of BU’s slam poetry club and a senior majoring in psychology — who received a standing ovation from the crowd and even the night’s headliners. Young shared a poem dedicated to the children she will never have, and emphasized the daily fights black people must face living in the modern world.
“It was great to perform for an audience that was full of people that enjoy poetry,” Young wrote in an email. “I’ve performed for a pretty wide range of event types and performing for poetry lovers always feels the warmest. It was also particularly great to perform for two of my favorite poets of all time. The opportunity was insane.”