Crystal Cove Auditorium has never looked so serene — softly dimmed string lights, two ordinary mic stands and a modest lava lamp on either end of the stage foretold the poetic evening that was to come. On Monday, May 21, UCI’s first and only spoken word poetry organization, Uncultivated Rabbits, hosted their quarterly showcase “Express U.R.self,” turning the spotlight on the club’s administrative board members, the U.R. slam winner Sheila J. Sadr and the night’s featured poet, Aman Batra.
Board members Esemel Valles and Jakob Castaneda opened up the night by laying out some basic rules for the audience: “When you like something, snap. When you really like something, say ‘mmm’ like you’re eating warm soup!” After those guidelines were set, the performances were ready to begin and the crowd was eager to respond.
First up was third-year English and literary journalism major Jacob La Cava reading his poems “My Name” and “My Reflection.” The former creatively explored the letters of his first name acrostically and revealed associations with his identity, while the latter was a contemplation on his changing image. Following La Cava, third-year environmental science major Esemel Valles returned to the stage to perform “I Waited” and “Feralia Jocosa.” Valles brought the tempered cadence of an experienced spoken word artist to her crafty pieces about a troubled relationship and the questioning of value, employing a species of moth as her metaphoric conceit.
Jakob Castaneda’s “Abyssopelagic” took a deep dive into chaotic consciousness, inspiring people to walk the world with eyes open. Marcella Digel, third-year BME-premed student, evoked a fair share of snaps and “mmms” with lines like “I wrote your rainstorm, but I don’t reign over it” in her poems “Love Note Of a Rainy Day” and “Hello, Again.” The last board member to perform was third-year English and literary journalism double major Miguel Lopez. His overtly meta pieces “My Contribution to This Scam” and “Hermosa Mariposa” were abstract in analysis of the exploitation and commodification of his art. Lopez went beyond knocking down a fourth wall, to dispelling the idea that there was a room at all.
After the U.R. board members, U.R. slam winner and Iranian-American poet Sheila J. Sadr took to the stage with a medley of impassioned poems up her sleeve. Sitting cross-legged on the edge of the stage, Sadr built a warm intimacy with the audience which made her initial poems about her mother and her heart that much more personal. The mood shifted as she stood up to take the mic; her sweet, loving verses turned to spit-fire lines about irritating men asking her if that poem was about them (it was). Sadr’s talk about “how brittle man’s bone is” would turn out to be an insightful preview of what was to come after intermission.
The night’s featured poet, Aman Batra, gallivanted onto the stage with the casualness of a veteran performer and said point-blank, “Imma talk about how men ain’t shit.” Batra, a self-titled “recovering narcissist,” did indeed use her hourlong set to blast men and their roles in “modern day situationships.” Just when the unhinged ranting had turned obnoxious, Batra slowed her pace, and drew poems from her bag that expressed a softer side, saying “Imagine Frank Ocean playing in the background.” She then shifted the focus to her own identity and let the audience in on the impact the death of her father has had on her life and how he inspires every word of her work. At the end of her set, Batra opened the floor to audience questions. What we learned: she is very in-tune with her zodiac sign, she’s currently reading Kaveh Akbar’s “Calling a Wolf a Wolf,” and she believes that honesty makes the best poetry.
In closing, the audience and poets joined together on stage for a final breakout. Jakob Castaneda explained, “When you think of ‘Uncultivated’ you think of wild, free, expressive; and that’s really how we want to portray our art to the world. The reproduce aspect comes in from something bunnies really like doing! So that’s why on the count of three after every meeting we come together as our little bunny family and we say ‘Reproduce!’”