To write articulate and presentable spoken word poetry is a daring and artistic feat at any age; to present a 15-minute solo piece of your most emotional written word to a largely unknown audience as a high-school student is just plain mesmerizing. Bruckner and Mans have been working on their respective pieces for about a year in collaboration with a director and choreographer. Both artists radiated emotion through their performances, while audience members choked back tears.
Marne Bruckner performed first with a piece about growing up in a challenging environment, and trying to find one's space in the world while battling all the usual association of family, friends and the pressures that come with each. It's a story that's easily relatable, excruciating to share with an audience, and demanding of a speaker on a wide stage.
Bruckner delivered her tale with a poise and sense of expression well beyond the mere 16 years old that she was when she wrote it. At one moment she seemed incredibly adult-like, asserting herself with confidence; the next, the audience could see her physically and verbally shrink into the eight-year-old girl she was portraying, shuffling feet and demure manner to boot.
"I was tired of being an old pair of sneakers. When every urban child wanted fresh kicks I wasn't new enough. Broken tongues too oppressed to speak for their soles, name branded and worn out," she belted, to the resounding sound of snapping fingers that accompanies such performances.
Jasmine Mans followed, performing a stirring piece that touched on how any young woman might feel towards a god she has prayed to when (s)he commits the ultimate sin against them for the first time: a first death, accidental, of a young man who reminds her of her little brother. "I do not know what it's like to trade in bunk beds for caskets," she wailed, and the audience very nearly lost it.
This performance was also about what we might do differently if we were aware of the expiration date that comes with all of us, or if we were to know when it was. She repeated the line "If he knew his last supper was coming around breakfast time, maybe he would have invited his friends over for Fruit Loops."
Two current UW students were up next: Karl Iglesias and Cecelia León, both known and respected in the OMAI circuit. Iglesias performed a piece that he wrote in lieu of a paper for a Puerto Rican history class. It incorporated dance and a showing of multiple personalities, including those of his mother and his grandmother. An audience member later marveled at his mastery of transformation and femininity. Speaking after the show of how this type of spoken word performance crosses so many boundaries and responding to a comment that he showed great mastery of a large stage, he said, "Without a mic there's nothing to center you… you learn how to be comfortable with empty."
León presented the only visual art piece of the night -- several, actually -- with a three-panel painting at center stage, while alternating zip-ups symbolizing her Italian and Filipino heritage throughout the performance. From God Woman: "I am pinned to supposed to only being one but there are three swords in the stone of my body; if one were taken out, this stone would crumble," she mused, speaking of the pull of her Italian, Spanish and American cultural unity that is her.