Gold and silver mylar balloons swayed slightly as each poet came to the podium, glistening with the lights above, creating a glow that matched the poems themselves. The emcee, spoken word artist Cory Cofer, stepped up and immediately let his words flow as his arms undulated with the rhythm of his voice. He expressed the injustices within the education system against men of color.
This “spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings,” as notable poet William Wordsworth would say, was just the introduction to PCC Poetry Day, held in the Circadian and headed by the PCC Creative Writing Program and PCC English Department to recognize National Poetry Month. This celebration is now in its fourth year, and also aims to bring attention to PCC’s literary magazine, Inscape.
The buzz of poets and students from PCC poetry professor Kirsten Ogden’s class emulated throughout the room as a powerpoint decorated with pen splotches took over the screen.
Soon the crowd hushed, making room for the two professional poets.
Xochitl-Julisa Bermejo held her book, “Posada: Offerings of Witness and Refuge” and lightly smiled, surveying the crowd. She talked of her original writing style and subjects focused mostly on her family and Latino heritage and her memories of growing up within a close knit and warm environment.
She also worked with a program near the border of Arizona and Mexico, providing supplies and aid to the immigrants making the dangerous and harsh trek through the desert to come to America. Her book was inspired by this work and the stories she encountered from it, which allowed her to focus a lot of her writing specifically on immigration.
Her voice moved with ease like a skipping rock on a pond as she read a few of her poems and made the space between her and the audience the canvas for the mental pictures she painted. It was as if she having a conversation with everyone in the room. It was as if you could feel the hot sun blazing down on the desert sand as the girl from her poem lay dead. You could hear the water boiling and bubbling as her grandmother prepared the nopales and see Bermejo’s child like smile as she consumed the finished product.
Angela Penaredondo took her place at the podium, standing with her arms rested on the sides and her pink shirt adding a pop of color to the otherwise beige room. She is author of the poetry book, “All Things Lose Thousands of Times”. A poet with Philipinx roots and a focus on decolonization and the exploration of culture in its many forms, she talked of how poetry was a means of coping and survival and it was how she started writing. It was her navigation through life.
From the moment she started reading from “All Things”, her words created a dream-like, surreal presence, her voice lowering and rising almost like the most soothing of incantations. Stand out phrases lingered in the room such as “teeth like the sun” and “do not mistake your legs for nets, use them as catapults”.
She used the screen to show two videos, made by Penaredondo herself. The sheer obscurity yet beauty of the videos with her voice-over of her other poems left the audience a bit taken aback, with silence and murmurs before applause erupted. The videos included images of a lone boy wearing various masks and an indigenous woman performing a dance.
The open mic with students getting the chance to share their voice. With each student that went up, a piece of their story permeated throughout the room, in spans of just a few minutes at a time. Between pauses in the stanzas, some in the audience made small mumbles of agreement or sympathy. Vulnerability and emotion ran strong with each poem that was read.
One was originally a second half of a rap verse dedicated to the student’s mother, while Maica’s poem painted the harsh effects of her saddening story of bullying. A couple of poems even brushed along the realms of Greek mythology. One was from a girl named Alicia De La Pena, her words of fictitious desire and childhood fulfillment, specifically centered on Icarus. The other of Greek stories meshed with the real life story of lost love. A long form piece explored a fabled, forest of words, and others dealt with deeply personal reflections of themselves, some positive and negative and the gray area in between.
No matter the topic, pace, or intensity of the poet, whether they were student or professional, the poetry readings and open mic offered more than just words. It offered a look into the place inside someone and what their greatest fears, joys, and experiences and the pieces of their life they carry with them.
“Poetry is when we can be intimate with ourselves,” Penaredondo said. “It also let’s us be intimate with other people’s worlds.”
For a place as PCC, with students of manifolds of experiences, it also allowed for students to go beyond the academics and be more in tune with themselves and each other, which is the sentiment of English professor Brian Adler.
“I think this is an important cultural event and creative outlet for our students,” he said. “I believe in the importance of poetry; it essentializes and encourages active response. I think the connections created in poetry and its revelations of truths are vital in today’s world.”
After the evening of poetry subsided, the balloons were still pinned against the wall, but the poets and their words left the Circadian and audience with pieces of themselves.