Photos by Chimena Ihebuzor.
Each semester, Campus Activities Board adds a Poetry Open Mic Night to their schedule. The event is typically hosted by a guest poet, such as last year’s Jasmine Mans. Of course, as it is an open mic night, the floor is open to students as well. Though students hesitate to sign up at first, they eventually shake off their fears and step up to the microphone to perform their poems. Sometimes their voices shake with nerves. Sometimes they get so caught up in their emotions they lose their words or their anger reverberates around the room. The stage, the microphone, and the audience become an outlet and a support group. Though the crowd may be large, the end result always feels incredibly intimate. This semester’s Poetry Open Mic Night was held on Nov. 14 at 7 p.m. in the Student Union Rotunda.
The host for the night was Carlos Robson, two-time winner of the National Poetry Slam championship and UNC Charlotte alumni. He has been nominated for APCA Spoken Word Artist of the Year two times and co-wrote and appeared in the play “Miles & Coltrane:blue(.)” which played Off-Broadway in 2009. Currently, Robson travels and performs at colleges across the country. He plans to perform around the Charlotte area for the next month as part of a residency program.
Robson performed a number of poems throughout the night. His poetry often focused on or contained references to social justice topics such as Black Lives Matter, white supremacy, gay rights and the mental health of veterans. However, he never came across as abrasive. This was a person baring his soul to an audience. He seemed entirely genuine, passionate and open. In my opinion, his best poem of the night was “Amazing Grace,” a personal story about a boy he taught with autism. Other highlights included his poems “No Place Like Home,” “Sam,” and a poem he wrote from the perspective of Trayvon Martin.
These poems were presented with interludes of poetry from current UNC Charlotte students. They touched on a number of subjects, from relationship problems to racism. Many of them stated that this open mic was their first time performing their poetry in front of others. For example, freshman Jeremiah Parham performed “Two-Day Weekend,” a poem he wrote that day about the announcement of 50-minute classes on Fridays. Student Jacob Perry presented an especially moving piece about mental health. Hilda Kolawole, a staple poet at these events, performed a powerful poem about those who try to imitate her and envisioned a mountain-top heaven for black women.
Beyond poetry, Robson also served the vital purpose of warming up an audience and amplifying student poets. He often inserted jokes and short stories between poems to entertain the audience and make them feel more comfortable. These anecdotes also provided a bit of a break from poetry that was often deeply personal and emotionally moving. After each student performed, they were congratulated heartily by Robson, who encouraged the audience to applaud until they made it back to their seats. At the end of the night, Robson seemed genuinely moved as he stated how impressed he was by the student’s poetry. He also stayed after the performance to talk with and advise student poets.
I always thoroughly enjoy these events. Still, I sincerely wish Campus Activities Board would use a venue other than the Student Union Rotunda. While it is helpful in that it draws in audience members in the form of foot traffic, the rotunda is also exceptionally loud. This noise not only detracts from the audience experience (which is primarily focused on listening) but also seems to distract those who are performing. The sounds of rolling trash cans, loud conversations, and the student who started playing Rihanna while studying cannot have been conducive to concentrating or performing. However, due to the personal nature of the Open Mic, the night still manages to create a close-knit feeling for the audience. It provides a space for students to have their voice be heard and a place where they can share their thoughts and their fears. It encourages students to express themselves and showcase their art. It is something I strongly recommend attending.