Spoken Word Collective encourages students to speak from the heart

Jan. 22, 2014, 1:38 a.m.
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Courtesy of Greeshma Somashekar

At 8 p.m. last Thursday evening, all of Stanford seemed silent save for a small room at Hume, lit with debate over whether the poetic illustration at hand was an animal or an article of clothing.

“It’s a sweater!” Evelyn Anderson ’16, explained. “My metaphor was ‘sex is like an itchy sweater.’” The room erupted into laughter that trickled out into a series of soft mmm’s and laudatory snaps.

The room is the temporary home of the Spoken Word Collective, a campus group founded in 2002 for students interested in spoken word poetry. On Jan. 16 last week, the Collective invited students to gather after hours at the Hume Writing Center for “Upside Down,” their first open workshop of the quarter.

Spoken word, an art form that combines performance and the written word, has developed a larger presence on campus in recent years thanks to the efforts of groups like the Collective, which has hosted open mics and quarterly shows.

A workshop, where attendees participate in exercises ranging from illustrating metaphors to writing poems, is also part of the Collective’s expanding effort to bring spoken word to the larger Stanford community.

Sibel Sayiner ’15, director of the Collective, wants to create more than just a rehearsal arena; instead, she hopes to create a space for students with varying amounts of spoken word experience to try their hand at poetic release.

“I think a lot of people are natural writers and don’t know it,” Sayiner said. “Everyone, to some extent, enjoys getting a release through art in some sense.”

Several of the students at “Upside Down” were either returning to or trying their hand at a new art form.

“Once I am indulged in spoken word, I feel like myself,” said Chasity Salvador ’17.

Having done spoken word in high school, Salvador seems at ease, lounging on her seat with pen and paper in hand. But her relationship with spoken word has been a rocky one.

“The emotions I was putting into spoken word were very negative, and I was running away from spoken word for a while,” Salvador explained. “I was reluctant to attend the workshop, but I felt the loving atmosphere I got in high school.”

Kyle Michelson ’15, social chair of the Collective, also fell “instantly in love” with spoken word.

“It’s a space where people are vulnerable,” he said. “It’s incredible how you’ll see Stanford students going through their entire quarter and then entering a Collective show and just crying for the first time in months.”

In the words of Tucker Bryant ’16, a member of the Collective, “at a place like this, people forget that they’re human beings, not human doers.”

Sayiner expressed hope that the Collective’s outreach efforts will attract more students to spoken word.

“Stanford, to me, is a university of productivity,” Sayiner said. “Art is a different and necessary type of experience, because suddenly, you’re not a cog in the machine who is just going through the daily grind. Instead, you are helping add your own words to the whole world.”

As the workshop approached its closing hour, Greeshma Somashekar ’16 asked each attendee to share a piece of writing. The room grew quiet: belly laughter subsided into the hum of anticipation—the furious click-clacking of laptop keyboards, the scratching of a leg bouncing against a sofa—as each attendee exchanged glances with the next, offering tacit invitations to share.

“I’ll go first,” Somashekar said, a hesitant smile spreading across her face. She leaned over her laptop as the rest of the attendees leaned towards her to listen. For a moment, the room held its breath.

Somashekar opened her mouth and the words began to flow.

Contact Madeleine Han at mhan95 ‘at’ stanford ‘dot’ edu.

Seunghwa Madeleine Han '17 is a sophomore at Stanford interested in English, international relations and the intersection of technology and human communication. She is currently a contributing writer for music and a former news desk editor at The Daily. Contact her at mhan95 'at' stanford.edu to find out more.

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