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The Year Of The Rabbit

Courtesy of Lauren Shepherd

The passionate fourth-year president of a poetry club, Nghiem Le, invites the other club members to bring their hands to the center and they shuffle closer and closer into one mass.

“We are going to take in this positivity, throw it into the circle and bring it out into the world. One … two … three … ” Le says.

The students’ hands fly up into the air as they all cheer, “Reproduce!”

Each Monday afternoon, the UC Irvine spoken word poetry group, Uncultivated Rabbits, turns the Ring Room of the Cross Cultural Center into the home where they can express and empower themselves through written and spoken word.

The “Rabbits” joined together for their first Open Mic performance of 2013 on Monday, January 7.

Spoken word is a form of poetic entertainment that draws from emotions and experiences to which we can relate, and Uncultivated Rabbits is the one hub for spoken word at UCI.

“But before I reach to hate, because thoughts can sometimes suffocate, I learn to reevaluate, to appreciate and to create happiness for myself,” first year Maggie Wu, said during her spoken word performance.

Within the glass walls of the Ring Room, about a dozen poets performed for over 50 people. A thunder of finger snaps filled the room with its rain to sooth the emotions of the performers.

The Uncultivated Rabbits emerged from the original group, Polaris Entertainment, whose members were inspired by the creative performance techniques they learned in an Asian-American performance class. While most of their performances are requested by campus organizations, like  the College Democrats and the Vietnamese American Coalition, the Rabbits share their passion for spoken word at events across the coast, from San Diego poetry sessions to Los Angeles cafes.

Open Mic, held on the first Monday of the month, helped UR gain recognition, and by 2010 the Rabbits’ vibrant entertainment awarded them the Anteater Award for Most Outstanding Performance/Entertainment Organization at UCI.

In 2008, the Rabbits established “UR Presents,” introducing nationally recognized spoken word poets, such as Phil Kaye and Sara Kay, Shihan and Rafael Kasal to the campus. The Rabbits take their craft seriously and reach out to these distinguished poets as inspiration. Still, in the day to day, each Rabbit has his or her musical inspirations to turn to.

“A great part of my identity is dedicated to the Rabbit in me,” said third year Rabbit Dajanae Barrows.

Don’t be fooled by her shyness; when Barrows takes the stage, there is no room left for doubt because her voice fills the glass walls with raw emotion.

“I’ve become known as the little girl with the big voice in poetry,” Barrows said.

At the Open Mic, Le’s embarrassed thoughts moved through a blushing voice, but with a tone of confidence that authenticated his emotions to the speakers with his poem, “Lucky.”

Le’s poetry tells stories about women. “I’ve done more soul searching, so my portrayal of women is now less idealistic, more realistic,” Le said.

Two years rehearsed, the poetry spills from his mind without a break and with few breaths; he cannot release the emotions fast enough:

“I want to piece you back together and make you whole once more, fill the holes in your heart with the love I have for you so you can smile and laugh and have fun again,” he said. The men in the room “mmhm” in their quiet but strong understanding.

“We encourage people to snap or ‘mmm’ at a line they like. It helps the performer know they are appreciated because it’s scary going on stage and having people watch you spill out your guts,” third-year Alex Chan said.

“Hear voices flutter over silence and caress my eardrums as we trade stories of our scars and some scars aren’t so easily seen. And I want to hear about those too,” Le said in a sea of snaps.

Spoken word frees the poet from having to rhyme, but requires the poet to use bodily action, movement to build a more dynamic story upon the spoken words.

“It is verbal expression at its highest; there is nothing lost in translation,” Le said.

“I’m mad nervous right now,” fourth year Rabbit Adam “Smiles” Gomez admitted to his fellow Rabbits, as he stood up to present his first spoken word poem. The appreciative laughter that followed his first line settled his nerves.

“What I love most about the Rabbits is how we can all bring new perspectives and backgrounds and we can invite each other into our worlds and feel, yes, vulnerable, but accepted at the same time,” Gomez said.

For the relationship and diary-inspired writers, like Chan, the performance aspect of spoken word is a process of moving on.

“You say a line and you feel the pain as you say it, but it’s a good feeling because you’re being strong enough to say out loud how much you’re hurting; that’s what makes art in general so powerful,” Chan said.

Whether the poet attends an Open Mic to release her emotions or soak up related stories, the reward is mutual.