Open mic, open minds.
These were the guiding words for this month’s Another Type of Groove (ATOG), a poetry slam and open mic hosted by the MultiCultural Center.
The room was brimming, not just with the physical support of bodies in chairs but with their minds too; the crowd was as imaginative as it was percipient.
Alongside the usual pocket of seasoned literary veterans, a spattering of emboldening applause welcomed a substantial number of first-timers in the audience. Bounded by a unifying silence, each of them eventually took their places on stage — some performing in front of an audience for the first time ever. Through the glint of the light, you could make out a few pairs of hands shaking.
The event, which takes place on the first Wednesday of every month, features performances from students, faculty and one featured (and usually relatively renowned) poet. Performing this time, was Anthony “The Saint” Gonsalves, an internationally-recognized slam poet who has won several competitions around the Bay Area and Central Valley.
Gonsalves spoke, or rather slammed, about a variety of topics — racial injustice, unrequited love, grandparent guilt and even the sexiness of bacon.
Fusing his prose, however, was a certain element of personhood — what it means to live freely, persevere against all odds and to love and be loved.
For Gonsalves, poetry is unique in its instantaneity; its reactionary ability to evoke raw emotion. That feedback, he said, is part of why he gravitates toward spoken word over anything else.
“Being in front of people is exhilarating,” Gonsalves said. “I love just being able to share my story to the world.”
Poetry’s ability to move others, however, is what really got Gonsalves to stay.
“I’ve been inspired by all types of different people in my lifetime,” he said. “If I can even come close to inspiring someone else — to be able to be in that vein and share your story and it could possibly help somebody else — that’s super dope.”
Among those performing was a new faculty member, sociology assistant professor Unique Shaw-Smith, who recited a poem she entitled as a letter to her young son. The poem echoed sentiments of the Black Lives Matter campaign, as well as portions of the recently released series of open letters from women of color to their young black sons, who are growing up on the fringes of a seemingly post-racial America — letters written in the hopes of preparing them for blatant prejudice and fatal injustice.
“Black lives matter. Our people are resilient by nature. We have, and always will be kings and queens, and no amount of deadly force can take that away,” Shaw-Smith read.
Peppered in between the lyrical grit were several comedy sets and live performances from student musicians.
Agricultural business senior Sean Reish recited a poem circling his family’s flight from oppression in Armenia.
“I’ve known a lot of women who have been through really hard things in their lives, and it goes back to my great-grandma,” he said. “Then I see what’s going on around me so I just start writing about it.”
Biological sciences senior and ATOG event coordinator Brianti Williams said ATOG has taught her the importance of feeling grounded.
“Allowing people a space to be freely is a crucial part of that — it’s a part of individual experience that coincides with community experience, and in turn opens that community up and joins it together,” she said.
Williams reiterated the contagious effect of poetry throughout the night, encouraging the audience to react — to laugh, clap and vocalize.
“The beauty of poetry is that it can reach through and touch a quiet point of complete understanding with someone you have never even seen before,” Williams said. “Everyone looks around the room in hopes of finding someone who just shared your experience and understands a particular moment that no one else could. Poetry brings that person center stage.”