Wednesday, April 8, 2020
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Rabbits Take Flight at Open Mic

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Alejandro Sosa stands in front of a projected photo as he performs his mixed French and English poetry Photo by Jack Yu

by Erica Kim

Hands gathered one on top of another, all reaching for the center. Smiles were exchanged between strangers all stapled together, unbound by social labels, as everyone shouted “reproduce!”

The huddle is the end ritual for the Uncultivated Rabbits’ “Open Mic Night” as a way to remind everyone that shows up the club’s goal — to promote the production and spread of the arts.

UCI’s spoken word group hosts the event every month, inviting anyone to write and perform their  poetry.  Held this month in a small Humanities classroom, it serves as a platform for all forms of poetic self-expression. Eclectic personalities quickly shuffle throughout the room,  like a human Rubix Cube.

Grand introductions are unnecessary formalities for the group of artists. Casually, hosts Olivia Allen and Farah Billah go up, the lights dim, and they explain poet etiquette. The rules are simply to show appreciation with snaps and as Allen said, “when you really feel something, let out ‘mmm’ from the pit of your stomach.”

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Co-host Olivia Allan performs her quirky piece as eager listeners snap in approval Photo by Jack Yu

One by one people go up to perform, each with a different technique, message, or inspiration.

Alejandro Sosa pulls up a picture of a French painting, named Non je ne Regrette Rien. It  translates into “I will have no regrets.” He breaks from his usual relaxed state, switching off between peppered French and rapid English in a booming voice, making us feel as though we understand his indignation despite lost translation.

The audience snaps and a few people release appreciative “mmm’s”, enjoying the taste of the woven words.

Tyma Hezam recites her fast-paced poem parallel to an Jamie xx’s song “Gosh,” a hybrid of garage music and rave. It seems like she doesn’t stop to take a breath — it’s as if we’re running. We’re left with the title of her poem,  “They Look Miserable.”

But the night is not all filled with deep, serious interactions. During a performance an audience member points out a performer’s notebook cover displaying an adorable puppy and he responds “I know right. I tell people it’s what I write my serious stuff in,” causing full laughter from the audience.

The minutes creep by before the last performer is called to the front. The shy freshman with blonde braided hair, Tesla Neumann, has command over the whole audience. She is powerful as her words run from her mouth, passionate as her hands rise, and ultimately, she is both vulnerable and inspirational as she allows everyone to hear her poem about her past abusive relationship. At the end, snaps of approval become resounding claps because for a few sacred moments, every person in the room identified with her pain. It’s a rare environment that most people have not experienced, or as Sosa put it, “[We are] a strange amalgamation of different people. Mostly, an ear. It’s an ear in that we will listen to what you have to say.”

Just as the night seems overrun, an impromptu Rabbit Alumni, Vatche Yousefian, is egged on by the board members to perform.. His poem pulls at the heart strings, incorporating humor and his own life lessons in “An Open Letter to my Unborn Son.” He lets us hear his fatherly advice for any situation, “No matter what, choose happy.”

The poetic expression is infinite at the Mic Night but what’s even more evident is the culture that is created by the Rabbits.

Many people apply to college to chase after their career goals. For students, the idea of success gets harder to differentiate from happiness. Someone can easily look at poetry as a hobby, even a ‘waste of time’ towards success. But, as a political science major, Billah reveals the collective nature of the usually divided  relationship between hobby and career.

“In this way, we’re not putting our 100 percent in art or school, but I feel like i can speak for everyone when I say it’s who we are. We need to make things as those kinds of people. You need that release.”

Open Mic Nights help enlarge and promote a community that feeds off of each other’s energy and diversity, giving support for people who want to explore and grow in the arts. They’re not just an appreciation for artful performances, but also opportunities to make emotional connections.

Billah added, “You have to feed yourself art. You have to see what’s out there and indulge in it.”

Fundamentally, these events allow for better discovery of people’s respective goals. Among the Uncultivated Rabbits, one can find an opportunity for growth and a continual reason to be inspired, proving it’s not just a detour to success.

For newcomers and out-of-state students like Tesla, the Uncultivated Rabbits is the community she was looking for to connect to people; “I was able to open up the deepest parts of myself [and] connect with them all through poetry.”

As board member Torrin Greathouse puts it, for a school that prides itself on its STEM reputation, UCI holds a “…very open, very accepting, haven for the arts.”