The night of Sunday, Feb. 3, 2017 was cold and quiet. Inside Chums, however, it was pleasant. The “’DEIS Impact Open Mic Night: Diversifying Discussion Through Art,” an event from ’DEIS Impact, was about to begin. The room was filled with an intimate group of 18 or so people, and friends piled on couches among the sounds of anxious chatter and carefree laughter. The space felt safe and ready, and as music wafted from the speakers it seemed as if Chums was a canvas—primed and waiting for the brush of self-expression to paint its marks.
Organizers of the event came to the small platform, announcing that it was about to begin. In order to protect the privacy of the artists, names will not be used in this article. However, the artists have agreed to share highlights of their performances for those who could not attend. A student kicked off the night with two lively raps. He commanded the atmosphere well, and it was clear that everyone was engaged. “We’re in the same boat and the boat’s crowded,” he chanted rhythmically as his music jived. His next rap was called “Wake Up” and discussed the difficulties of life. And so, with this performance, the open mic night began.
The audience seemed receptive to all acts. There was mild chatter between performers, and at times whole-hearted hoots and hollers to support a particularly well-known artist. Students had different styles and attitudes towards performing, particularly towards reading their poetry. Some would speak in a normal tone and pace, while others seemed to be in a theatrical spectacle. After the rapping, the next student chose to read poetry that she described as being both personal and political. The first seemed almost lyrical, titled “Sunflower Song.” The second, “A Banned Poem” was clearly a response to Donald Trump’s immigration ban.
The next performer had a poem with an interesting approach. She described having joy and longing specifically for things that had not yet happened—seeming to express the hope that there will be many wonderful experiences to come in life. For example, she hoped that her “best friend would be a stranger she had yet to meet,” her favorite shirt “yet to be sewed and folded,” her job one “not yet made.” It was a powerful piece, spoken with eloquence and rhythm not unlike a verbal dance. Her second piece, “Queer,” discussed finding her sexuality and dealing with the hurt from hearing phrases such as, “That’s gay,” and finding out that her best friend absolutely did not want to be best friends with a lesbian. A line that resonated with me was when she described walking with her girlfriend—“sweating atheist prayers through our fingertips.” The imagery was vivid and the sense of anxiety or longing seemed palpable.
There were more performers to come. The next student chose to play the guitar and sing a few original songs with titles including “One of Them” and “Out of Phase.” The topics touched upon were political, and his words were powerful. He had a sense of confidence and calmness, and generated an enthusiastic response from the crowd. Following the guitar, a student decided to play the piano. As his fingers tickled the keys, the room seemed to change. The piece began with a tone that was both melancholy and ponderous at the same time. Suddenly it transitioned to being more upbeat and peppy, then big and dramatic. For a moment everyone was silent, allowing the music to wash over us, and then, far too soon, it ended.
The last piece was a poem geared towards the election, featuring thought-provoking lines such as “heats shut to the hands that sewed the thread” and commentary on society such as “American Beauty scares me … laxatives for women, supplements for men.” It was a strong way to end the night, with the last few lines leaving a haunting sense of the current state of the United States: “The greatest country in the world, where did you go wrong?”
All in all, the open mic night was a success. It seemed a shame that more people did not come to witness it, for what a beautiful way to combat or digest the things that scare us, that confuse us: Instead of with violence or hatred, we confront them with art. We confront them with our own thoughts and experiences. And when we listen to the concerns and thoughts of peers, our horizons broaden and we gain new perspectives on the consequences of issues. Brandeis is filled with artists and leaders, and their voices could be heard loud and clear that night. The event was hosted by the creators of the Laurel Moon literary magazine, and students who are interested in contributing pieces of prose or poetry can easily get involved by joining the club.