It was a conglomeration of voices. Voices that sounded like human mixing machines — methodical and rhythmically precise. Voices soothing, voices sharp. Voices unforgivably and utterly raw, speaking truths difficult to swallow. Voices with intent.
It enveloped Chumash Auditorium, where students of all ages, backgrounds and academic interests put off midterms and joined together Wednesday night for Another Type of Groove (ATOG), a poetry slam and open mic hosted by the MultiCultural Center.
The night showcased acts from a variety of student performers — for some, their first time — and featured Imani Cezanne, a powerful slam poet and 2014 Women of The World Poetry Slam finalist from San Diego.
In acknowledgment of Women’s History Month, many poets’ works focused on gender issues, with topics ranging from body issues to sexual violence. Architectural engineering sophomore Sitora Vaxidova read a powerful piece about eating disorders and their virulent, unforgiving consequences, both mental and physical.
Biology junior and event coordinator of ATOG Brianti Williams said poetry gives student artists an outlet to safely express themselves.
“When students have a place that they can feel comfortable, feel happy, feel like they’re a part of the community, and like they can express themselves as well, it’s really important for the sake of feeling centered and feeling whole as a person,” she said.
The space was large, but the crowd created an intimate atmosphere. Each poet was greeted with warm applause, and the audience continued to encourage them through their performance. The crowd was active.
The alternation of restrained silence during each poem and boisterous applause between them showed how much the event meant to its audience.
“A lot of poetry brings up controversial issues, but the way they do it is really tasteful,” psychology sophomore Justine Nader said. “It evokes a lot of emotion within me.”
The audience had been warned of some of the pieces’ controversial nature and were encouraged to be open and positive, leaving all unfair judgments behind.
Cezanne’s pieces were explicit both in content and delivery. She had a powerful presence, simultaneously commanding and attending to the room. Captivating and full of energy, she was in tune with the audience.
She was an inquisitive and active listener, feeding off her audience’s energy and experience and making carefully calculated adjustments. She asked questions and yielded responses.
Cezanne spoke emphatically about a variety of topics. It felt like a washing machine of truth — issues often neglected were thrown in, mixed together and wrung out slowly, teasing out the causes and effects of how just about everything somehow got so messed up.
She started off light, talking about the date who asked her to change out of heels because he was shorter than her. Then she entered harsher territory, touching on issues more convoluted and, finally, ones that were gut-wrenching.
With a voice that had never needed a microphone, Cezanne spoke about the misrepresentation, dehumanizing fetishization and racism faced by black women all around America, even today.
“There’s more shame in loving a black woman than raping one,” spoke Cezanne.
And though Cezanne’s poems were dark and painfully tender, her ability to humor the audience was uncanny. Hearty laughs filled the large room, slipping in like bursts of light, intermittent between harrowing accounts of mistreatment and vicious sexism.
And the transitions were seamless. Her intonation adjustments were rhythmically sound and clear with intention.
The performers, all individual catalysts, shed light on more than just the inner workings of their own minds. They shed light on the neglected topics — ones that are often passed over or swallowed whole, never to be synthesized or given the right amount of attention. The night felt like a therapy session: emotionally rocky to begin with, but ultimately cathartic for every person in the room.
“It pleases me to be able to make people uncomfortable, even for just a few minutes,” Cezanne said. “I think this whole idea of being politically correct, of staying within the bounds and not pissing people off, it disallows us to really talk about what we need to talk about and say the things we need to say.”