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,”
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
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