by Sarah Burack
"Love love, Love love" -- Tsion Aberra is humming in the front of the lecture hall. Her body sways and the audience snaps along. I'm singing, speaking, about the lack of essence in today's music industry, she explains, about the true meaning of creativity--"that's a captivating feeling." Behind her, scrawled in orange chalk on the blackboard, is an imperative from one of the show's producers: "LISTEN TO THE POETRY!" It is advice well taken.
On the evening of Saturday, April 3rd, Harvard BlackC.A.S.T., an organization dedicated to encouraging interest and support of minorities in theater, hosted its first poetry slam. The event featured original spoken word works by 15 students, some of whom had years of experience and some of whom were debuting their works for the first time. Their efforts were presided over by a panel of judges that included Bruce George, co-founder of Def Poetry Jam, Professor Evelyn Higginbotham, Chair of the African and African American studies department, and Jean-Dany Joachim, the Cambridge poet populist.
Many of the works performed engaged with issues of race, politics and history, though some ventured further afield, covering topics from environmentalism to autobiography. Senior Lev Shaket performed one of the evening's more unusual pieces, a surreal dreamwork laden with otherworldly imagery of vodka and moonbeams.
Ultimately, it was the power of the words that the poets explored most fully. Some exulted in word play, rhymes, puns and clever twists cascading from their verse. Others stressed the power of spoken words to defy, declare, and proclaim. Eskor Johnson '11, standing confident and relaxed in a Superman t-shirt and faded jeans, rhymed about snacking on vowels and crackling on consonants in a riff that reminded me of my favorite parts of The Phantom Tollbooth. In a piece which promised the "revenge of the geeks," he affirmed the power of words over other forms of domination. Staring out at the audience, he proclaimed: "I don't need a gun to damage." Given the force with which his and other poems were delivered, I'd say I believe it.