By Yanit Mehta
Campus spoken word club, Uncultivated Rabbits, held their annual event called Express URself in the Crystal Cove Auditorium last Friday to showcase student work alongside their invited guest, spoken word artist Marshall Davis Jones. The Rabbits selected and performed some of the best poems from current students and alumni who returned to campus to share some of their personal struggles and journeys. The Rabbits worked with UCI Illuminations to target a larger audience for Express URself, but it was still a very intimate space with just about 50 or so people.
Uncultivated Rabbits is the first and only spoken word poetry organization at University of California, Irvine. Their goal is to provide a space for students to be vulnerable and empowered in their vulnerability. They provide a platform for poets, spoken word artists, and general passersby to hone and refine their skills. They organize open mics, creative sessions, writing and performance sessions, guest workshops, and more so that people can showcase their skills in a variety of mediums, including spoken word poetry, music, singing, beat boxing, emceeing, performance art, and many other art forms. Members of the Uncultivated Rabbits perform on the UCI campus, as well as other venues within Orange County, Long Beach, and Los Angeles.
Sarah Watkins, the president of the Uncultivated Rabbits got the ball rolling by explaining how the show and her organization works. Since slam poetry is all about emotions and exposing yourself, audience interaction is extremely crucial. People respond to things they like with snaps and an approved “mmmm” for things that truly resonate with them, making the space feel like a welcoming community— a community in which the audience is openly allowed to appreciate things they love and the performers get immediate feedback and reassurance on their material. It’s a very codependent system that works really well for both parties. Friday in particular, there was a lot of emotion associated with the event due to the common thread of battling mental illnesses in most of the poems.
Cesar Yuriar, an Uncultivated Rabbits alumni, a future lawyer, aspiring novelist and survivor of Type-1 bipolar disorder performed a poignant piece called “Grown Talk” reenacting a conversation between him and his father about mental illness. The poem enunciated the feelings of the current generation of millennials and how their lives and ideas conflict with the previous generation’s. Esemel Valles, a second year Environmental Science student performed a heartfelt piece from the perspective of a person who is trying to come to terms with her best friend committing suicide.
But there were also lighthearted poems. One of the most random yet entertaining moments of the event was when Petrina Suggs, a third year English major, announced that she was an angry poet and a roar from the audience encouraged her to get angry. That little moment sums up what the the Uncultivated Rabbits community is about— encouraging each other to feel and share whatever is on their minds.
After all the Uncultivated Rabbits’ performances, there was a quick 15 minute intermission followed by guest performer Marshall Davis Jones. Jones is a celebrated spoken word artist whose work is appreciated and recognized around the world. Most of his work is about identity, love, culture and technology and he has performed in front of TED audiences in Montreal, Hollywood, and at the Scott Air Force Base. As he performed some of his well-known poems, he paused and went on a hilarious and thought-provoking rant about the word “shit” and its various uses in everyday conversations. His entire set was an emotional roller coaster talking about race, love, war and everything relevant to us human beings in general.
His set was followed by a quick question and answer session. Even though he is a big personality in the slam poetry industry, he was exceptionally approachable and amicable, taking on questions about his creative process and his identity as a Black artist. He went on to talk about the importance of poetry and art in today’s world and how mundane life would be if people didn’t have the ability to feel and talk about their feelings.
At the end, the Uncultivated Rabbits wrapped up the show in the most eccentric way possible: they asked the entire audience to get into a circle on stage and yell, “Reproduce!” because that’s what rabbits spend most of their time doing. That pretty much encapsulates the Uncultivated Rabbits— an eclectic bunch of intellects in touch with their feelings, united in a community that encourages everyone around them to feel free to be the most stripped-down and vulnerable version of themselves without judgement.