Rohan Narayanan ’15 is changing the Brandeis community, one poem at a time. When the 2014-2015 school year began, the senior was already involved in an extensive amount of Brandeis extracurricular activities, including his position as president of Brandeis Television (BTV) and his critical role on TRON, the men’s Ultimate Frisbee team. But over the summer, Narayanan spent most of his time writing spoken-word poetry. He returned to Brandeis with the confidence to perform and the desire to create a safe space for others to express their emotions.
Since August, Narayanan has performed his poetry at many highly public Brandeis venues, including the Mela and Brandeis is Our House events. His spoken-word performances have been met with praise from students, faculty and staff, despite the fact that he admits he does not have any academic knowledge of the art form. “I started writing poetry a little over a year ago, and it just kind of took the form of spoken word … I think because I talk really fast and have a lot of angst and opinions, spoken word is absolutely the right medium for me,” he said in an interview with The Brandeis Hoot this week.
Narayanan is continuing to grow as a poet, and the topics he feels passionate about cover a wide range. “I do write a lot about myself, about identity, specific traumas in my life, struggles with depression and anxiety,” he said. “I also write a lot about systemic bias, issues from racism to gun violence to social strata and stereotypes, and how I really don’t like institutions like schools or the government.”
In a recent poem titled “Mike Brown,” Narayanan labels America as, “A country on its knees, burdened by racist violence.” The piece begins with the following stanzas: “Sometimes I’m afraid I’ll end up like Mike Brown/ I’m not even black and I’m worried I’ll end up face down/ Color is a target, an ardent marksmen/ We see a citizen, but they see a target/ Blood soaked shirt, hurt, shot, gunned down, dead/ Brown skin blood splattered red.”
Other spoken-word pieces are more personal. The poem “One of Us” allows Narayanan to address and struggle with his own atheism. The piece begins: “What if God was one of us?/ Then he’d probably take a wrong step off a crosswalk and get hit by a bus/ He’d mill through the crowd as another faceless citizen/ He’d get a Christmas sweater from his wife of an ugly colored crimson/ God would hate his job, on the corner he’d get robbed/ God would have student loans and there’d be a bunch of cracks on his iPhone.”
For Narayanan, sharing his own work and voice was not enough. He wanted to reach out to others on the Brandeis campus. “The Brandeis arts space is very stunted,” he said. “For a place priding itself on its social justice and commitment to free expression, I found it kind of ridiculous that there really were no places/spaces established on campus to consistently share poetry.” Narayanan is now striving to change that. He recently began hosting monthly events at Chum’s, calling the event Iamb an Artist, or simply Poetry Night.
“Poetry Nights were born from my strong desire to create a safe space and community on campus to share poetry and emotion. So far, the response has been awesome. It really warms my heart that people have gravitated toward such a space. My hope is that people keep coming out, pushing themselves, writing and sharing, and ideally the space continues to exist long after I graduate,” he said. Iamb an Artist takes place the last Thursday of the month from 9 to 11 p.m. in Chum’s, and everyone on the Brandeis campus is invited to attend. “I’m always looking to expand, grow, meet new poets and share that space with anyone and everyone who is willing to buy into the idea and challenges of free expression, strong emotion, and a safe space,” Narayanan added.
Narayanan, who names Saul Williams and George Watsk as his favorite spoken-word poets, truly believes that his work, and the work of others, carries power and momentum. “Spoken word is powerful because when someone writes and performs a poem that really means a lot to them, you can feel it. Emotion is the lifeblood of poetry, and oftentimes, when done and delivered right, it’s impossible to ignore,” Narayanan said. “It’s so important to be able to share issues, emotions and experiences in mediums apart from conversations and articles; just the idea of social justice art or extremely personal poetry is vulnerable and accessible in a way that just reading words or having a conversation isn’t always.”