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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

VOCAL 2008 uses poetry to promote social change

First annual spoken-word benefit concert draws world-renowned poets

Published: January 25, 2008
Section: Arts, Etc.

FIGHTING (FOR SOCIAL CHANGE) WORDS: VOCAL 2008 performers and organizers gather on the Spingold stage to bask in the success of the benefit concert’s debut.Do actions really speak louder than words? Maybe not, if Saturday night’s spoken-word benefit concert, which used words to promote social activism, is any indicator.

The concert, aptly named VOCAL 2008: Speaking Up for the Future, called on world-renowned poets, to help raise awareness about the importance of after-school programs in Massachusetts, as well as raising funds to support one Waltham program in particular, the new Community Learning Center at Prospect Hill Terrace.

Fifteen poets performed at the concert, culminating in a performance by Saul Williams, who has appeared on HBO’s Def Poetry Jam and been hailed by Esquire as the “Bob Marley of American Poets.”

Williams performed “Black Stacey,” a song about feeling comfortable in one’s own skill. In the song, Williams reveals the security he felt about his ethnicity growing up, singing “I dreamt of being white and complimented by you, but the only shiny black thing that you liked was my shoes.”

However, the show began with a fresh-faced poet, Noel Scales, who at 16 years old is a member of the 2007 Brave New Voices International Youth Poetry Slam Champion Philadelphia Team. Scales skipped the fluff and opened the show with a dramatic poem about a young pregnant woman whose enlisted boyfriend dies in combat.
SMILING PEOPLE: Buddy Wakefield gives a critical depiction of his hometown

Another alum of Def Poetry Jam, Kayo recited a poem about an fantasy affair with a woman twice his age, which comes to an end when he wakes up to reality and realizes the obligations of such a relationship.

“I felt the incisions in my wallet and the fear in my heart…. She looks like a beautiful, beautiful queen but now she looks like an expense,” Kayo said. “Instead of chillin’ with the fellas, I’m giving Stella her groove back.”

The baby-faced George Watsky followed, performing a poem that imagines what each of his body parts would have to say to his love.

The concert also incorporated performances from the Brandeis and Waltham community. Winner of the More than Words Poetry Slam, Anthony Febo of Lowell, Massachusetts, read a poem partially inspired by his experience teaching. He recalled an instance when he asked a fifth grader why the student thought Iraqis were bad, to which the child simplistically answered, “they kill people.”

Brandeis’ own Jason Henry Simon-Bierebaum ’10, also a member of the same Philadelphia slam team as Scales, recited a piece about playing with pipe cleaners, while his childhood friend played with G.I. Joe action figures. Unfortunately, this imaginative play became reality, as the poem took on a more serious note, as Simon-Bierebaum described the pain caused by his friend’s decision to enlist.

Buddy Wakefield performed “My Town,” a poem about the self-contradictory nature of U.S. government and society. A excerpt from the poem goes, “My town is cute in the way we worry about the gays f**king about our family values and the sanctity of marriage, yet we still let our children watch television shows, like Wife Swap, The Bachelor, Who Wants to Marry a Millionaire?, American Idolatry and Fox News.”

Mayda del Valle performed a trio of poems. One, entitled “In the Cocina” painted a descriptive picture of her mother’s kitchen from her childhood, filled with the aromas of Latino food and the sound of cooking to provide the beat for the dancing del Valle would do alongside her mother. Del Valle is the 2001 Nuroyican Grand Slam Champion and 2001 Individual National Poetry Slam Champion, making her the first and youngest Latina ever to win the nationals.

The concert also featured performances from Alysia Harris, Just Greg, Carlos Andres Gomez, Iyeoka, Laura Murphy, Paul Graham, Jared Paul, as well as a surprise appearance from a friend of Saul Williams, Amanda Palmer of rock band The Dresden Dolls.