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Poetry Jam showcases fearless revelations

The usually peaceful Fishouse was packed for Poetry Jam: Fearless.  Calvin.edu
The usually peaceful Fishouse was packed for Poetry Jam: Fearless. Calvin.edu

You walk in and don’t even recognize it. The Fishouse has changed, completely changed, from a comfortably spacious coffee shop to a room packed with people. People are spilling over the railing, standing by the walls, even poking their heads out from the booths above.

And they’ve all come to listen to poetry.

This past Wednesday, the Fishouse hosted their biannual “Poetry Jam,” a night of fun and laughter stirred together with contemplative nods and quiet reflection. People crowded around the small corner stage, made even smaller by the acoustic band playing there, and listened as Calvin students stepped up to the microphone, holding folded pieces of paper in their hands, and recited their poetry. The poems ranged from funny anecdotes about past crushes to deeper themes of love, brokenness and racial tension.

In between these speakers, the background band played quiet, smooth jazz, adding to the relaxed atmosphere of the whole event. As people spoke, the soundmen often stepped in to make changes to the speakers, the band would adjust their instruments, and the audience drifted in and out as they pleased. The whole Fishouse felt calm and untroubled.

This created the perfect, unintimidating environment for this year’s Poetry Jam theme: Fearless.

“Poetry should be fearless” says Naomi Hamilton, one of the event coordinators for the evening. “Take a leap, go for it. Jump.”

And judging from the incredible response, it seems like Calvin students took that advice to heart. During the main event, a number of entries were not only performed by students who had never participated in Poetry Jam before, but also gave the audience an inside look at the speakers themselves.

“All our lives we pursue our dreams. All our lives we pursue true happiness,” recited Joshua Gibbs to enthusiastic applause.
Fearless. Toward this end, even after the scheduled part of the evening had finished, the mic was left open for anyone who felt inspired by this idea — and many were — to share their own poetry and music.

“They use poetry to express themselves, and bring out their own voice” said Hamilton.

And that seems to be the beauty of poetry jam. The freedom of expression. In order to emphasize this, last year the theme of Poetry Jam was “Uncensored,” in which poets were encouraged to simply say what they wanted.

“We don’t want people to feel censored. We don’t want to cover up people. We want you to be yourself”, continued Hamilton. The poetry read at the past semester’s jam was fairly controversial and resulted in a slightly larger crowd than the one gathered at this event Wednesday night. But it was considered to be a great success, and as always, a good introduction for those unfamiliar with poetry.

“The art of spoken word isn’t often known. For those people, Poetry Jam is a great introduction,” said Hamilton.
And from the audience’s reaction, Poetry Jam accomplished just that.

“Music and poetry are universal to everyone,” said Taylor Emmens, a sophomore in the crowd. “Even though it touches people in different ways.”

Erin Curry added to this point, commenting on how it was “interesting the way poetry both grabbed hold of and let go of emotional and racial injustices.” Waving a hand to reference the crowd, she explained how “You have a bunch of different cultures and people here, all listening to poetry together.”

Fellowship and community seemed to be a common theme with everyone in the audience, as they watched the performances and snacked on mini candy bars the event team handed out. “It’s good fellowship,” commented John Forth as he joked about wanting a blue guitar.

Poetry Jam will come around again in the spring, with a different theme, different pieces, songs and people to preform them. As always, there will be an open mic afterwards, for anyone who feels called to add his or her own poetry to the mix. Stated very simply by Elena Brubaker, perhaps the overall point of Poetry Jam is simply this: “Be spontaneous. Say something.”

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