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Davis, California

Sunday, June 16, 2024

Spoken word poetry revamped in Davis

SickSpits has long been the go-to event for spoken word open mics

on campus. This year the staff has implemented bimonthly open mics and

is offering workshops for those interested in practicing and refining their


Yousef Buzayan, a fourth year majoring in international agriculture

development and managerial economics, has been a part of the collective

since the end of his second year at UC Davis.

“SickSpits has always put on a general open mic, so anyone who

wants to perform comedy, play the guitar, drums – whatever – is welcome,”

Buzayan said. “[SickSpits] is also a poetry collective, and we perform both

at the open mics, as well as in the community at high school, events on

campus, conferences [or] anywhere people need performers.”

The collective used to host open mics once a month. The move to a

twice-a-month schedule is intended to improve both the sense of

community and each individual’s poetic and performing skill, according to

SickSpits member and second-year English major Iris Bloomfield.

“The monthly open mic seemed too sparse. There weren’t enough

opportunities for people to come together and perform or be in that

space. The idea with the [twice-a-month] schedule is to give people more

impetus to write and perform, and it creates a more frequent space for the

community to grow,” Bloomfield said.

Jacob Siegler, a second year international agricultural development

major, said that the community at SickSpits sets itself apart from other

poetry collectives he has encountered in the past.

“[SickSpits] is different in the sense of community. It’s nice to have an

intimate group that you’re writing [and] administering with, and to then have

a larger Davis family that comes to the Sickspits events and supports you,”

Siegler said.

Last year the team began offering a general poetry workshop. This

year the group continues to expand its critiquing and collaborative space by

offering a second workshop.

“We have our general spoken word workshop and our new freestyling

workshop,” Buzayan said. “[Instructor] Tanya Azari has a background in

formal and structured poetry, and I come from a more hip hop, rapping


The balance of structured and freestyle workshops gives prospective

poets an idea of the different kinds of poetic styles they can perform in.

“In the freestyle workshops we will be cyphering and offering

exercises that [cater] to all talent levels,” Buzayan said.

Cyphering is rapping without any official structure or pre-planning,

and focuses on linking verses together spontaneously while in a group


“One person will freestyle, pass it to the left and so on. We didn’t

want it to be [just cyphering], because freestyling is a difficult thing to

get into if you are a newcomer,” Buzayan said. “I know back when I was

starting out, you would have these people who were really, really good at it,

and as a newcomer it’s intimidating. There’s a learning curve that’s hard to

get over.”

In response to the learning curve, the team plans to offer exercises

that level the playing field.

“We want to expand on [cyphering], offer some games: rhyming in a

circle, storytelling on similar topics in 30-second bouts per person, seeing

where a person’s mind is going. It’s something everyone can do, and it’s a

good way of getting your brain active. After that, whoever wants to freestyle

will go. Freestyling in a cypher setting requires open-mindedness and being

comfortable with all talent levels,” Buzayan said.

For the spoken word workshops, the structure is much more formal.

Instead of speaking immediately and without a filter, poets are given a bit of

time to develop and practice their technique.

“The way that it goes is that Tanya will announce what we’re going to

write for the day. The topic at the last one I went to was about your favorite

superhero and [some of the poems that were produced after just a few

minutes of writing] blew my mind,” Buzayan said.

In addition to fostering the practice of writing and presenting, the

workshops and open mics also provide a safe critiquing setting in which

poets can share pieces they are working on and receive feedback.

“After the [last] open mic, my friends came out and seven or eight

people that I didn’t know came up to me and said ‘Oh, I loved your poem’

[and] ‘You did a great job,’” Siegler said. “It’s so great to become part of a

smaller community at Davis.”

Open mics are every first and third Wednesday of the month in

the Technocultural Culture Studies Building (Art Annex) at 7 p.m. The

spoken word workshop will be held on Fridays from 1 to 2 p.m. Freestyling

workshops will take place on Mondays in the Shields Library courtyard at 7

pm. For more information, visit the SickSpits Facebook group.

Photo courtesy Tanya Azari


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