by Naomi Stuart
Festival ballroom filled with polite snaps, as well as a few hoots and cheers, on August 31st at the Center for Multicultural Student Services’ Def Poetry Jam. Free to all, the poetry showcase brought in poets who’d appeared on the HBO show Def Poetry Jam to perform at JMU. The performers provided poetry that dealt with topics that spanned all across the board. Subjects from race and identity, to self acceptance and mental health, gave topical variety, meaning that every attendee had something to walk away with and think about at the end of the night.
Things kicked off with some of JMU’s own students coming up and performing their own spoken word poetry. One student performed a poem about being “unique”, the meaning of the word, what that word really means in our current society, and to her personally. The poet was responded to with snaps and cheers from the audience as she pointed out how she feels she is constantly told that she must stand out to succeed, while also being constantly ridiculed for doing so.
This was an especially special part of the event for many attendees, as they were able to see other students who might even be their friends or people they might have class with, perform their own pieces.
One student, Carrigan Coley, a senior health sciences major here at James Madison University, explained, “This is my second year going [to the event], I hosted it last year!” She reflected on the open mic portion saying, “A lot of my friends actually performed at the open mic part of the show, it was really nice see them and hearing their delivery of the original poems they performed.”
Another student, MeShawn Macklin, a senior anthropology major, when asked about the open mic portion, said, “One of my close friends actually did it, and I was very proud of her.” “She doesn’t usually share.”
Students also helped to run and host the event, prior to introducing the guest host, Helena D. Lewis, an actress, poet, playwright, and social worker, who kept crowd energy high throughout the show. Starting off with her own comical poem about a man trying to talk to her about her poetry while breathing in her face with astoundingly bad breath, she captured the audience by walking around through the crowd, occasionally pausing to talk to audience members directly, complimenting their shoes and hair.
Macklin also pointed out that the questions and answer session at the end of the event was one of her favorite parts. “We got the opportunity to ask the poets questions about their lives and how they got started with spoken word.”
The poets that followed performed poems about parenting, cultural identity, childhood memories, and even about poetry itself. The poems were both touching and thought provoking. Because the event was also made a passport event for students taking Health 100, many students were able to use the event as a way to learn and get new perspectives as part of their education here at JMU, and perhaps go to an event that they wouldn’t have normally thought to look into.
Just one of a variety of opportunities JMU organizations bring to campus each year, Def Poetry Jam was a great way to see many eye opening speakers and learn about culture and poetry in a way you might not normally learn about it in class and daily life on campus. The event is brought back every year, so keep an eye out for the next time the poets come to campus!