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“Just once I need somebody to show me all [that] I can’t see”

Published: September 18, 2009
Section: Arts, Etc.


stirring words: Slam poet Iyeoka Okoawa entertains at first B.O.M.S. event.<br /><i>PHOTO BY Yuan Yao/The Hoot</i>

stirring words: Slam poet Iyeoka Okoawa entertains at first B.O.M.S. event.
PHOTO BY Yuan Yao/The Hoot

This past Tuesday on September 15th in the season opener of the Brandeis’ Open Mic Society or B.O.M.S. for short, the nationally acclaimed Iyeoka Ivie Okoawo graced the stage of Castle Commons and was, for all that listened, the guidepost that she so yearns for in the above excerpt from “In the Blink of an Eye”. Her presence was a welcome treat for poetry enthusiasts throughout campus, as well as guests from as far as Boston University and Lowell, Massachusetts. All came to share in the light, warmth, and mutual therapeutic catharsis Iyeoka proliferates and shares with her audience. This event was sponsored by the Brandeis poetry club, Vocal, a Brandeis club geared towards combining poetic arts and community involvement. Vocal will hold open mic sessions every second and fourth Tuesday of the year to facilitate an open reading space for all creative writing and performance art.

These sessions will allow guest appearances from prominent names in the world of poetry such as Iyeoka herself, and will choose the members of Brandeis’ own Poetry Slam team by means of slam competition.

Before the competitive portion of slamming begins there is also a guest feature from one of Brandeis’ own. Last night, accomplished poet and member of the 2009 Brandeis Slam Team, Usman Hameedi, performed for about 15 minutes and brought pure intensity. His subject matter ranged from the flames of the heart to the burning sting of gunfire and, somehow, despite the changing nature of his subjects he managed to maintain an overarching theme focusing on the power of loss, not only to lay waste to our pasts but to lay out the ground work for the building of new and, possibly, better futures. Even at the angriest and most despairing moments in his work, Usman never let us forget that, as Iyeoka puts it, “everyday you breathe is another day’s opportunity left to dream.” Usman is an exemplar of what Vocal represents and what Brandeis has to offer. He really got to shine and gathered nods of approval from all in the audience including Iyeoka, who stayed after her set and was, seemingly, very glad that she did. For any poetry buffs willing to become a member of Vocal, show off their work, or involve themselves in Brandeis’s poetry-related events, check out Vocal at www.vocalpoetry.org and/or become a member of the B.O.M.S. (Brandeis Open Mic Society) group on Facebook.

Now that I’ve successfully plugged the poetry group (and oh so subtly as well) I can turn the spotlight on our lady of the evening, Ms. Iyeoka Ivie Okoawo. What struck me as the most refreshing and humbling about Ms. Okoawo was her humility; the genuine nature with which she approaches her fans and her work. Even after receiving numerous accolades such as a the 2006 New England Urban Music Award for best female poet, and despite being recognized for her talent on the CBS hip hop show, “The Source, All Access,” and Russell Simmons’ Def Poetry Jam, she still approaches our simple Castle Commons stage with a perfect balance of composure and excitement that people are willing and ready to come to for the journey that she will take them on. Furthermore, she really likes people. Iyeoka emits an aura that makes it almost impossible to frown around her. As I slinked towards her after arriving late to the show, I was greeted with an “Oh, so now you show up,” which had all the inklings of the familiar joking tone of a sister and gave off anything but a “celebrity” vibe. After meeting her in person it is not hard at all to believe that Iyeoka genuinely loves people, a sentiment established in her self-proclaimed goal to “move the world one poem at a time.”

Each of Iyeoka’s masterpieces gives voice to untold avenues of expression, not only to the poet herself, but to her listeners as well. To paraphrase the president of Vocal, Jason Simon Bierbaum, “to listen as Iyeoka tell her story is to find the courage to tell your own”–a sentiment no doubt echoed by fan after fan who came, some in tears, to meet Ms. Ivie Okoawo in person. “Iyeoka was introduced to Brandeis about two years ago,” Jason recalls. She was one of the many big names of poetry that came out and showed Brandeis love in our first annual Vocal main event.

Listening to her latest CD release, a live performance recording simply entitled “Greetings from Hawaii,” it is hard to choose a favorite amongst the impressive display of range in subject matter and Iyeoka’s talent as a singer, songwriter, and spoken word artist. The song “Revolution,” a personal favorite of mine, wherein, beneath the elements of alliteration, metaphor, rhyme, rhythm and poetry that permeate this half-sung, half-spoken testimonial, Iyeoka provides us with a very simple reminder that, in order to enjoy life, one cannot hope to have their cake and eat it, too. One piece which stood out particularly in Tuesday’s performance was the powerful narrative poem “In the Blink of an Eye.” Therein Iyeoka recalls for us a near-death experience aboard an airplane and relates a visceral, penetrating account of having one’s life flash before one’s eyes. This is then followed by what should be considered a tirade but what is received more as something like poetry in motion, she tells us to “do whatever it takes, or whatever it is that makes [us] alive,” and we are compelled to do something, anything to appease her challenge. In the words of Rachel Parkin, poet and vocal member: “Iyeoka emphasizes the idea of the “personal anthem,” inspired by a mantra or a song or an image. Most of the pieces she performed were “anthems” of a sort, focusing on themes of appreciating the present moment and accepting yourself: roots, culture, mind, emotion. She wants all of the audience members to figure out whatever their anthem may be, write our own pieces, and then send them to her via Facebook.” This statement comes as no surprise to anyone that knows Iyeoka’s work. She doesn’t acknowledge any type of “fourth wall” mentality in her performance; she doesn’t keep a distance. She invites you in and invites you to stay, get comfortable and go on journey; not one where you will not “dress your demons in white” and hope they become angels, but one in which you find “a path, an obvious, inevitable, inarguable truth” about the world around you, and most importantly, about yourself.

For more on Iyeoka’s views on Facebook, future tour dates, or to join her list serve you can check her out at www.iyeoka.com. If you’re reading this, we thank you, Iyeoka, and can’t wait for you to come back.

Vocal will hold B.O.M.S. events throughout the year on every second and fourth Tuesday, with the next one on September 29th featuring Def Poet George Watsyk.