REVIEW: Change Our World (Slam Poetry)

Spoken word is a powerful medium for literature. It brings together elements of traditional poetry, the lyrical form and flow of rap music, and the stage presence and movement of dance. The audience is more closely involved in the experience than a reader of Dickinson might be; it is a conversation with the author, a chance to see the emotion on their face when they speak and to react more richly to the writing.

Members of University of Michigan’s Slam Poetry team opened the night with a selection of poems I still feel lodged in the back of my mind, even days later. I will not reveal how many tears I cried, but the number was embarrassingly high.

A self-proclaimed “emotional b*tch,” Bronx native Roya Marsh is sheer inspiration in human form. She has ascended from minor competitions and open mics to performing at Carnegie Hall in front of an audience of thousands. She commands the stage whether in mid-poem or casual conversation with members of the peanut gallery; it is impossible to peel your eyes off of her as she moves through words you know are intentionally selected one by one. Her 15-poem set (all memorized and organized in her head, or what she calls her “rolodex of poems”) felt somewhere between a Sammus concert, a comedy act, and a palm reading session. The crowd was modest, but that made it all the more personal. At one point, she asked just about everyone if they’d been to New York and what their major was.

The poems went hard and fast, their words expressive and moving. I felt a literal, bodily sensation when I was being pushed through such a range of emotions in a short period of time; a sense of that fullness which can only be achieved through a run-on stream of hurt and joy and experience. It was easy to fall into the atmosphere of the place, the fancy theater and the lights of the stage and Roya standing, shining in front of the audience. I was rapt, unable to focus on anything else as I took in what it meant to be in a room of strangers all feeling differently about the same words. The night and the poetry were completely encompassing, ambient. The turmoil within the intersection of race, gender, sexuality, and class had never been so clearly laid out, and in such an undiluted way. Other expressions of such experiences have the tendency to fall flat, whether in traditional poetry, theater, or novel form. Hearing the author speak as loudly, as harshly, as fast or slowly as they choose to is more strongly moving than anything that could be written on a page.

If you are interested in keeping up with what she’s up to, Roya is on Twitter at @ChampagnePoet (right up there in the search results for Drake). She is currently working on an album of spoken word poetry, coming out next year, so keep your eyes peeled for those updates!

PREVIEW: Change Our World (Slam Poetry)

Poetry has long been a medium that puts words to the indescribable. It can be used to explore the feelings that exist amorphously, from the most complete pains to immense elation. It draws together seemingly unrelated pieces of life and brings light to ideas that we may otherwise glaze over in our striving for a normal life. Further still, slam poetry combines this style of writing with a moving, lyrical flow that resonates with a wider audience, adding in a most earnest emotion to the already poignant stanzas.

The U of M Slam Poetry Competition group and Roya Marsh are coming together to perform their work Wednesday, April 3rd at Rackham Auditorium. Come snatch a seat at 7 pm and prepare yourself to gain new perspectives on social justice issues that plague our existence. Admission is free for students and faculty, and staff!

Image result for poet

REVIEW: Mystic Nights at Zal Gaz Grotto Club

Certain situations seem to arise from mostly nothing, creating a sensation of mystery from mere sights and feelings and sounds. In the event room of the Zal Gaz Grotto Club, there was a heavy, though not unpleasant, smell of red wine; dimmed overhead lights, with strings of Christmas lights bordering the room; a quiet playlist of music going, ranging from the Doctor Who theme to classics from The Beatles; and a thickness to the warm air coming from the heaters.

I sat at table 8 before the show began, reading a science fiction novel. Though distracted by the book, I was aware of my surroundings. However, at some point Misha Tuesday just seemed to appear in front of the velvet curtain, gazing at the audience. I dog-eared the page, and the show began.

It was curious that the mystic’s performance was not based in the showy ways of magicians or mediums; there was no claim of celestial powers beyond that which anyone can obtain through study. He stood before us, a slightly short, unimposing man, and argued he was neither a mind-reader nor a psychic, but a well-read investigator of a world hidden by our need for simple order and logic. I had not been expecting a Ted talk, but it was a good speech.

He went through a whole lineup of what he called “experiments,” exercises where we were meant to allow our latent intuition and sight to come through. There were some card tricks, displays of mind reading, of predicting the future. Nothing quite made sense; he seemed to be able to see with people as they visualized names and places, stepping into their thoughts as one could step into a room. Everything should have had some explanation, but it laid a little ways beyond my reach.

I was called up towards the beginning, and though I had wished to be chosen, when it became reality I was nervous to stand before the audience. I was shown a paper with a list of objects for less than a second. One of the objects was inside of a closed box I held in my hands. With the blank side of the paper facing toward me, he moved a pair of scissors up and down, asking me to tell him where to cut so that he cut through the word of the object in the box. I stopped at a random point (or so I thought). He asked whether I wanted to move a word up, and, the spotlight seeming to beat down on me like an August sun, I said no. The word was uttered quietly; it seemed to slip out of my lips without meaning to. He asked if I wanted to move one down, and I said yes, again unsure why I was feeling so certain and yet maybe not in control, not quite.

The word he cut through was “keys,” and in box was a ring of them. Unsure of what had passed, and unsure of its importance, I walked back to table 8 as the audience applauded my participation.

Was it all the effect of exquisite slight of hand? The power of persuasion? Some passing of unspoken signals between the volunteer and the mystic that allowed Misha Tuesday to command thoughts? I have no idea.

But that was the point of his performance, and of any performance that deals in mystic themes. To know the reasons for everything is to have failed at living meaningfully. Instead, as Tuesday preaches, we must ask questions, but not ask for their answers. There is a certain amount of mystery in the world, and it should be considered, but not attempted to be arranged into the static patterns that dominate society. Wonder is precious in the way it takes us away from the oppressive structure of the rest of our lives, and allows us to imagine, if just for a second, that the things we hold as fact may have many forms.

PREVIEW: Mystic Nights at Zal Gaz Grotto Club

Image result for magic clipart

The world is full of unknowable things, things that exist underneath reality: the supernatural, the magical, the mystic. Some are gifted with the ability to see into this plane of being, but most of us are offered mere glimpses, if any sight at all. Occupied by the ordinary world, we fail to see the extraordinary that lies just beyond our unseeing gaze.

But this Wednesday, March 27 the magician Misha Tuesday will be lifting back the curtain. He will be performing miracles in the form of hypnosis, mind reading, and magic to provide guests with a soul-changing evening. Your very understanding of reality will be tested and torn by the hands of this great illusionist. Perhaps you will be given the sight yourself. Anything can happen when mystery rules the night.

Doors are at 8:00 PM, and the show begins at 8:30, but the kitchen and bar are open beforehand. The experience will be priceless, but tickets are $10 at the door or at


REVIEW: Icons of Anime: Cowboy Bebop: Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door

Every time I see a movie, I have a particular feeling afterwords, where I take on some of the characters’ attitudes, style, or mannerisms. Depending on how good the movie was, this can last for quite some time. For instance, I watched Billy Madison weeks ago and I still straighten into first position when I feel myself slouching. And though I have neither the time nor money to get into ballet lessons, my heart yearns to sign up for a beginner’s class.

The mood of absolute coolness is overpowering in Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door. I regret forgetting to wear a shirt with a poppable collar; I felt beyond out of place amongst Spike Spiegel, Electra Ovilo, and Faye Valentine, lightyears behind them, fashion-wise (and name-wise of course). The landscape of the city made me feel small, but the characters walked through it with confidence: they owned the streets, moving in long strides, self-assuredly occupying space.

Image result for spike spiegel   Image result for cowboy bebop knockin on heavens door characters Image result for Faye Valentine

The variety of color schemes was greatly influential in making the movie’s aesthetic unique. The different settings (Moroccan Street, the bounty hunter crew’s home, the warehouse, downtown, etcetera) were distinct in tone, the characters’ clothing standing out enough within these spaces but also blending in well. The omnipresence of shades of earthy brown is representative of the 1990s and early 2000s, but still allowed for a futuristic feeling. Though many of the colors were muted, they worked well in accentuating the artists’ highly contrasted shading technique.

Image result for cowboy bebop knockin on heavens door Image result for cowboy bebop knockin on heavens door Image result for cowboy bebop knockin on heavens door train

In terms of the movie’s concept, its originality brought new life to what could have easily been a standard, unremarkable action flick. The focus on fight scenes was thankfully minimal (for me at least, there is no greater sleeping pill than any of the Jason Bourne movies), instead there was more emphasis on the nature of the bioterrorism device. They actively developed the idea, including scientific details that fleshed it out more than I expected. It was a bit unrealistic that the researchers attempting to find out more about the biological agent came up with absolutely nothing, while the cowboy gang figured it all out so quickly. It would have been less distractingly odd had the scientists started to gain more understanding. This choice could have made the agent more complex, more terrifying in a more real way.

Throughout the movie, I found these places where small occurrences slyly slipped by. In the first hospital scene, a woman lies on a bed, reaching up at nothing, most likely in the process of dying. The shootout on the trains traveling over water has a moment where two trains pass each other just so, drawing darkness in and out so smoothly.

Also, the soundtrack was great. The music was as widely varied as the settings, and some of the song titles are as out there as the characters’ names. The whole soundtrack is by one music group (Seatbelts) on the album Cowboy Bebop: Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door: O.S.T. Future Blues. This would be the perfect album to listen to while cooking a fancy, complicated dessert, or an enormous bowl of homemade ramen.

The U of M Center for Japanese Studies is continuing this film series Wednesdays at 7PM at the Michigan Theater. The next movie is on March 13: Ghost in the Shell (1995). Be sure to mark your calendars!

REVIEW: Pioneers: First Women Filmmakers

Despite the passing of decades, our sense of humor has not changed so much since the silent film era. The fundamentals of what elicits laughter have stayed the same despite social, economical, and cultural change. The exaggerated facial expressions and body movements that are characteristic of silent film, theater, and modern movies and television work as well then as they do now. While the lack of sound is much of what necessitates the overacting, the introduction of audio later on did not make this style obsolete.

The six films presented Tuesday evening were a good mix of lighthearted comedy, poignant drama, and exciting action. While the ones that leaned heavily toward the comedy side (Mixed Pets, Mabel’s Blunder, That Ice Ticket) were at times a bit lacking in greater substance, they were well balanced by the others, forming a cohesive set of films.

I found A Fool and His Money somewhat problematic. Though it broke new ground in being the first film to feature an all-Black cast, in some aspects the characters were caricaturish. Also, though created by a woman (Alice Guy Blanche), the female lead was made out to be a flighty gold-digger with no additional substance.

Behind the scenes: the filming of A Fool and His Money (1912)

Perhaps it is due to my romanticization of the wild, wild west (despite my having never been to the western half of the United States, save for California) that my favorite of the bunch was A Daughter of ‘The Law’, made by Grace Cunard. It featured a smart, charming police chief with a plan to bust a ring of whiskey makers (as Prohibition was in effect at the time) living in a remote mountain community. Disguising herself as a wandering artist, she snoops around for clues. She uncovers the group of troublemakers, but in the process she falls in love with their leader! After her true identity is discovered, the townspeople set out to kill her, but her beau proves to be handy as a getaway driver. She doesn’t report him, and he sees the error of his ways, and leaves behind his life of crime. Though the themes of male saviorism and putting romance ahead of all else (here, major career success) are a little unsavory, the fact that the ex-whiskeyman is influenced by a strong female lead still places the movie ahead of its time.

Image result for grace cunard a daughter of the law

And of course, the show would not have been possible without our resident organist Andrew Rogers accompanying the films. For about two hours straight he played, creating the mood of each scene, adding drama, suspense, surprise. His timing remained impeccable, a crescendo growing just as the peak of the action hit, a cheerful staccato bouncing as a comedic scene arose. Rogers absolutely made the night!

If you are interested in seeing more features of women filmmakers, check out the lineup at the State Theater. On Tuesdays in March, they will be screening a great movie made by a female visionary. The schedule is posted at Don’t miss it!