Open Mic fosters evening of love, community through poetry, song

Beverly Pan/Staff

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“A poet writes in her own language. A poet writes of her own people, her own history, her own vision, her own room, her own house … A poet is somebody free. A poet is someone at home.”

Thus June Jordan, a late UC Berkeley professor of African American Studies and a Black poet, explained the intimately authentic nature of the poetic voice in her essay “The Difficult Miracle of Black Poetry in America.”

Wednesday night’s Open Mic — which was co-hosted by the English Undergraduate Association and Students of Color Emerging in English, or SOCEE, in Wheeler Hall’s Maude Fife Room — fostered a vibrant, supportive and heterogeneous evening of artistic expression. Performers spoke their truths through poetry and song in a fashion true to Jordan’s vision of artistic authenticity.

2018’s Open Mic — the 10th biannual occurrence of the EUA event — welcomed acts from all UC Berkeley students who signed up. Thirteen ultimately performed, including two featured acts, both by UC Berkeley upperclassmen — Ricky Santuario, president of CalSlam, and Keely Marshall, a singer-songwriter with Nickelodeon and Disney credits to her name.

“This is a place where people can be academically and socially supported and find a community,” said Melissa Rodriguez, co-president of SOCEE, upon joining event host Summer Farah in welcoming the audience to the venue.

This air of encouragement carried throughout the evening, with audience members consistently affirming performers with showers of snaps and raucous applause. Thus, the space quickly proved more communal than competitive, with artists comfortable enough in their abilities for them to revel in the successes of their companions, as opposed to considering such triumphs as threatening.

Among the first to perform was freshman English major Dominique Salapare, whose impassioned and fiercely loving spoken word tribute to her mother managed a delicate balance between the delicacy and wildness of familial affections. “My momma gives everything even when she has nothing can stop me from carrying her wherever I go,” she asserted in her piece, to murmurs of assent and snaps from her viewers.

Senior Barbara Montano, the president of EUA, exhibited a similarly compelling set of poems, speaking to her own constantly evolving narrative. Montano read “The First 85 Days,” a poem penned her freshman year while acclimating to UC Berkeley. In both tone and subject matter, it registers a sense of acute awareness beyond the grasp of most 18-year-olds.  

“Where is Berkeley, but here, in this house, in this place that is distinct in its creaks and bending floorboards, peeling ceilings and cold tile bathroom floors, and here I was thinking it would be a long while before I was inside this house again,” she mused from a script written by her past self.

Though each performer engaged with Jordan’s artistic mission in spirit, four did so explicitly. These performers cited Poetry for the People, the arts and activism program founded by Jordan in 1991, as inspiration for their works.

Santuario was one of such artists. A seasoned poet, Santuario read selections from their new chapbook, tactfully navigating content spanning self-love, identity and what it means to be a first-generation college student in America. “I love you, even when you can only love me in poems,” the poet declared in “Letter from Skin,” a heartfelt, personal affirmation.  

Throughout the Open Mic night, performances represented a myriad of subject matters, mediums and tones — just as how performers themselves varied in gender, ethnicity, age, major and interests. Each spoke to a shared belief in the power of the translating experiences by way of poetry and song, especially through an array of lenses. Within the Maude Fife Room, UC Berkeley artists found support and unified community by virtue of celebrating their differences.

Kiva Uhuru, a UC Berkeley junior, provided the closing act of the evening, singing a cover of  “Nakamara” by Hiatus Kaiyote. Uhuru’s ebullient voice carried throughout the room, her tones of warmth washing over the audience and wrapping up an uplifting evening of diverse artistic self-expression.

“I’ll always love you, love you, love you I do,” she sang.

Contact Ryan Tuozzolo at [email protected].

A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Ricky Santuario is a first-generation immigrant. In fact, Santuario is a first-generation student.