Feb. 24, 2000
I attended my first poetry reading Thursday night. It wasn’t in some tiny bookstore deep in the heart of Soho. It wasn’t with a bunch of people dressed all in black, sitting in big comfortable loveseats, sipping cappuccinos. It wasn’t a bunch of people contemplating the meaning of life with big words that I couldn’t understand. It was nothing like that. It was real, and it was comfortable.
The open mic poetry reading at Hillel was sponsored by the women of the Zeta Phi Beta, a historically black sorority. The sorority has held this event for the past three years as a way for GW’s black community to come out and express itself in an environment that fosters an outlet for emotions, the women explained.
The reading took place in a large room with 15 rows of chairs. The room was dark, only barely illuminated from the dozen candles scattered on the podium and the two tables surrounding it. Lingering in the background was the faint sound of music, a rich, dark, instrumental beat. It was one of those beats you have to really concentrate on or it simply fades from existence. The candles, the music and the darkness all helped to set the mood and create an atmosphere of openness.
Topics of the poems read ranged from religion and love to anger and strength. A poem entitled What is Black? sought to define what being black really means. To answer its own question the poem ended by saying, like it, live it, love it, be it. Black is a matter of fact.
A good number of the poems read by the sisters of Zeta Phi Beta dealt with images of black women. The poems emphasized their strength and the importance of treating them with respect. The poems asserted that black women are not toys but people who should be admired.
As I was sitting, listening and watching the different readers stride up to the microphone and open their souls to an audience of friends and strangers, it amazed me. What is it that makes these people so strong that they are fearless to reveal their innermost thoughts and secrets? The answer to this question was simple. No one in the room was being judged. Everyone was respectful of what each other had to say, whether it was humorous or potent.
I’m no stranger to poetry. I’ve written a lot of my own pieces through the years. Most of my writings are products of moments of depression and confusion. Often they search for answers by simply asking questions. Other times they are lines of rhyming tangents with some common thread that pulls them together. Many of the poems read at the poetry reading expressed similar styles to mine, while others took the form of stories that were narrated out in different tones and pitches.
Poetry can be a manifestation of the soul. It gives you the opportunity to express your deepest hopes, fears and frustrations. As I sat in my chair I contemplated whether I would be so bold as to get up and share my words and my thoughts. Unfortunately I didn’t bring any of my writings with me, but now that I think about it, I wish I had. It definitely would have helped me release the stress from a 10-page paper I had due the next day.