Davis student poets provide community, safe space
Community and accessibility are not qualities often associated with poetry. Most of the time it is feelings of alienation derived from frustration, confusion and an unavoidable aura of elusiveness. This attachment of exclusivity to the medium is hard to detach because it requires a willingness and commitment to view it in another light, a personal investment in something that may just further alienate you in the end. However, Sick Spits, a poetry collective at UC Davis, can make this jump from estrangement to a form of expression you can actually appreciate easy and worthwhile.
For Matt Fyhrie, a fourth-year materials science and engineering major and “honorary member” of Sick Spits, the community was immediately welcoming. His first open mic night involved a debut poem about marmots casually getting it on 10,000 feet up in the Rocky Mountains as they enjoyed the beautiful scenery. This story well exemplifies the welcoming, relaxed community feel of Sick Spits and the ease with which they make poetry come alive.
Reyna Adams, the president of Sick Spits and a fourth-year English and psychology double major, describes Sick Spits as having five core crew numbers, but notes that this can fluctuate. The core members are tasked with keeping the collective afloat by sharing roles such as secretary and treasurer. The group plans events such as laidback open mics which held every first and third Wednesday of the month from 7 to 9 p.m. They also host workshops, quarterly slams and collaborations.
Fyhrie commented on how slams are a little different than the casual setups Sick Spits usually hosts.
“Most of the open mic nights are not competitive, it is just people coming, healing, and sharing their space,” Fyhrie said. “But once a quarter everyone comes and […] brings their best, and there is a competition at the end of the night. […] You get to see how much talent is in the people you know and who are around you, it is mind blowing.”
Slams are held once every quarter, but throughout the rest of the school year, the community primarily bonds through open mics.
“What happens here stays here because we want it to feel safe […] we are not going to go around sharing your stories or name with other people,” Adams said.
This standard translates into being a “safer space” as Adams coined it.
“We don’t want anyone to feel like they are not welcome, that they are not surrounded by people who are willing to support them,” Adams said. “When it comes to wanting to share your love and your truth and your story we welcome that. We ask if anyone comes to an open mic night and feels threatened that they talk to us about it with our community members […].”
Creating a safer space allows performers to be vulnerable on stage through a variety of art forms, such as improv comedy, standup comedy and even interpretive dance. The freedom that comes with this platform often results in a clash between the safety and acceptance that core members seek to uphold and the first amendment right to free speech.
“The voices that are not usually heard are the underrepresented ones, the queer ones, people of color,” Fyhrie said. “Sick Spits and those voices are so easily drowned out by narratives of hate and violence. Sick Spits is a place for you to share whatever you want but we are trying to make it for voices that are not usually heard.”
Participating in an open mic night includes agreeing to be respectful and welcoming in the space.
“But when you are coming into a space like Sick Spits, you are entering a social contract,” Adams said. “When you come to this space and you want to use our equipment and time […] you are implicitly agreeing to our guidelines.”
When considering the unique perspectives and life situations of performers, intolerance of hate is essential for them to be confident and spill magic off the stage.
“I write really well after heartbreak,” said Anika Agrawal, a third-year environmental toxicology major. “I write a lot about what is going on around me in the world — the environment, being a woman of color, being bisexual […] I wrote about body issues once and I hadn’t had the opportunity to talk about that before but it was a good space to do it because I could talk about it and get it out of the way — but no one has to ask me about it later.”
Yet the pressure is also off on making sure you arrive at a substantial social commentary, truth or existential revelation in your work. Every syllable uttered from your lips is valid and supported. The community is there for its members no matter what.
This is especially important in making sure everyone, from all backgrounds, humanities to STEM, are encouraged to release their thoughts.
“All the happiest and most engaged and smiling enthusiastic engineers in my program are the ones who do something else on the side,” Fyhrie said. “All these people in science have these untapped feelings that they don’t know how to get out […] Everyone wants the ability to say ‘I feel bad, I have these concerns, listen to me.’”
In showcasing student perspectives, Sick Spits fulfills a niche and creates a mutually beneficial experience. Students can enjoy artfully delivered stories of their peers’ lives and can therapeutically let go of some of their own insights. The collective welcomes everyone with open arms who desires an outlet for creativity or simply wants to be an audience member.
Although this tends not to be the case, Adams details how people often change their minds about passive enjoyment and choose to actively participate instead.
“We always start off our open mic nights with a half full roster, but by the end more and more people want to perform,” Adams said. “People get inspired by poets. I have seen people shake the whole time and thank us later for providing that space.”
But if stage fright still has you worried, Fyhrie has some advice.
“I think [you can be] nervous to perform something very vulnerable about yourself, but the more you get the wind knocked out of you and the more you perform, the best way to not be nervous about it is to just jump right into cold water,” Fyhrie said.
The beauty of poetry and spoken word lies in how deeply personal it is, while simultaneously tying people together. It also sprouts from the simplicity of everyday life, allowing for everyday thoughts to take on a breath of life.
Sick Spits takes those elements of connection and accessibility and runs with them. Doing so provides a platform by which you can express yourself, as well as a community of caring, warm people to share it with.
“No plant would grow without nitrogen fixing bacteria,” Fyhrie said. “I’d like to think about ourselves [Sick Spits] as beneficial bacteria. Small but crucial work.”
Keep up with Sick Spits on its Facebook page for event information.
Written by: Caroline Rutten and Cecilia Morales — firstname.lastname@example.org
Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this story did not identify Anika Agrawal.