Despite the COVID-19 pandemic and inability to host events on campus, California State University, Monterey Bay’s (CSUMB) Otter Student Union managed to unite students with CSUMB’s first virtual poetry slam on April 10.
The guest poet was Ebo Barton, who joined the Zoom conference from their house in Seattle, Washington. Barton is transgender and non-binary, and their identities heavily influence their poetry. Barton has been performing spoken word for more than 12 years, placing fifth in the world in a competition in 2016. Their first published book is expected this summer.
Barton performed a variety of poems that focused on topics of religion, mental health, gentrification, family and the LGBTQ+ community. Analogies of inquiring the purpose of nose hair and praising Beyoncé were also mentioned, followed by poems with morals of accepting humility in not knowing something and accepting yourself for who you are.
“Family can definitely inspire us to write for many reasons and I know that some folks out there are having to spend a lot more time with their families than they’re used to,” Barton said. Due to the shelter-in-place orders around the world, Barton discussed how lonely self-quarantining can be and the power in bringing people together through poetry.
While introducing their poem, “Open For Business,” Barton and members of the audience discussed the gentrification of cities, including Seattle and San Francisco.
“It’s not just about the beautification and the displacement of folks, it’s about the actual removing of ownership of people from where they went to,” Barton said. “A group of people took away a whole neighborhood from another group of people and then when they come into that same neighborhood, they’re the threat.”
CSUMB student Clare Tershy also performed a couple of her original poems before Barton participated in a question and answer session with the audience. During the session, an audience member asked Barton how they came to master the craft of slam poetry.
“I don’t consider myself a master at anything, including poetry,” Barton said. “I feel like I’m still learning all the time, especially from my mentors, but also from young people. The energy and the rawness of high school students’ poetry is so much different than as an adult, we become so jaded.”
Several audience members also expressed interest in writing poetry, but not knowing where to start.
“Write poetry, go do it. Make a mistake because you’re gonna learn from it,” Barton said.