By Sarah Evans
Somewhere along the line, poetry got a bad rap. Maybe it was from the desks of your stuffy 11th grade English classroom, where you wished Walt Whitman would just speak plainly. Or maybe it was in the era of Dangerous Minds when we started thinking that poetry could only be “cool” if it was compared to Coolio. But if you were lucky enough to be in the audience of the spoken word artists last Friday at UAA, you know it doesn’t take anything but talent to make poetry cool.
Rudy Francisco and Katie Wirsing, presented by UAA Student Activities on Friday, April 12, are both well-known names in the poetry world. Francisco has won numerous Slam Poetry events, including the 2010 Individual World Slam Poetry Championship. Wirsing has toured all over the nation, and has become a prolific voice in the gay and lesbian community.
As the theatre filled with people, many UAA students, some begrudgingly complained about having to be at the event on a Friday night — however, by the time Rudy Francisco launched into his last few poems, the audience had transformed. People were laughing like it was a stand-up comedy show. Soft “mm-hmm’s” escaped from peoples’ lips when they heard words that resonated with them. By the time Katie Wirsing took the stage, it felt as if the entire audience couldn’t imagine wanting to be anywhere else.
The poems ranged in topics. There was everything from falling in love (with the girl who works at Starbucks) and attending your Grandfather’s funeral; to odes about sour-apple flavoring and convincing your shadow you’re someone worth following.
While introducing one of his poems, Francisco said, “Poetry should be accessible. It deserves a conversation.” Through the voices of Francisco and Wirsing, poetry was something modern again; I never once felt like I needed Cliff Notes to tell me what it all really meant. It felt so accessible in fact, that there were times I wasn’t sure if they were just talking to us as they would a friend, or if this was part of some intricately woven stanza. Their words created a sense of camaraderie.
The biggest compliment I can give to these two performers is based on a conversation I had with some other theater-goers when we were leaving. We all just seemed electrified. Someone said, “That was exactly what I needed, and I didn’t even know I needed it.” I couldn’t agree more. My evening with Rudy Francisco and Katie Wirsing restored my faith in poetry, and opened my eyes to how truly transformative it can be.