It is said that during our lives we have biological families and behavioral families. Behavioral families are the people that we stumble upon at various stages of life, people who are just as or even more attached to your well-being and success than your biological family but do not necessarily share your blood. Verbal Mayhem Poetry Collective, whether looked from the outside or within, is a behavioral family in every sense of the word.
“It’s like life support”. – Anthony Pizzo, [Senior, Verbal Mayhem E-board Member]
Every Wednesday night at Murray Hall the lights dim down in room 210 at precisely 9 p.m. Comfort is felt immediately by anyone who walks in. Students sit among each other on the floor, the windowsill, along the stage, leaning against the walls, with eyes locked on the performer. As people file in, the room is filled with performers and audience members laughing and greeting each other after a week long wait. Then the crowd settles to a tense silence, broken only by the voice of the first poet beginning their soliloquy to over 100 dimly lit faces.
In the three hours between 9 p.m. and midnight, the room is saturated with whimsical puns, subversive couplets, chilling tales, and tear-inducing moments of laughter. The lights flicker in reaction to a room-shattering performance. In the same moment, a student jumps from their seat and runs into the hallway in awe. Another set of students look at each other in disbelief of the creativity being displayed, while the crowd roars in approval.
This is a typical scene for the Collective. There is no moment throughout the evening that lacks life. Even during the calmer poems the audience members sit on the edge of their seats in anticipation of the next line.
This specific freedom; the kind that stems from the overwhelming level of comfort and community, cannot be attained without an overarching sense of safety. Safety, respect, and appreciation are at the core of the Verbal Mayhem experience. If a poem is potentially alarming or might reignite traumatic memories for audience members, trigger warnings are announced before the poem. A performer forgetting their lines is greeted by reassuring snaps until they gather their thoughts. Mid-poem tears are never awkward moments, rather, they are the moments when the group feels the most connected. When a performer braves the stage and announces that it is their first time, a wave of applause and shouts welcomes them into the family. Every week a poet that viscerally moves the crowd with their performance, no matter if they have been there for three years, or only one open mic, is awarded the title of “Dr. Verbal” and the “graduation” tune is hummed by the audience as they get their picture taken with their official “Dr. Verbal” regalia. Each one of these elements sees to it that every member of Verbal Mayhem is relaxed and comfortable enough to experience the magic that stems from shared artistry.
In response to the community aspect of the organization, fourth-year student and renown poet, “Shooooz”, feels that what makes Verbal Mayhem special is its commitment to creating a welcoming environment. She also notes the feeling of being emboldened to not only approach and connect with familiar faces outside of Verbal, but also to network with other artists in an effort to create new and original creative projects.
“What I love about performing at Verbal is that I can perform a poem on Wednesday night, and run into a total stranger Saturday afternoon who’ll approach me going ‘wait you did that poem about this thing at Verbal, right? That really touched me!’. . .So many people connect and embark on new artistic or business endeavors via Verbal Mayhem, and that empowers people to get their voices and their art to broader audiences than they could have achieved alone.” – Shooooz [Verbal Mayhem E-board Member]
The Collective ensures that the magic is not limited to Murray room 210. Verbal Mayhem not only performs at various co-sponsored events all year, they also sponsor the Rutgers Slam Poetry Team that competes nationally at the College Union Poetry Invitational (CUPSI). There they are able to interact with other Slam teams from across the nation, share their pieces with hundreds of other poets, and build friendships that frequently follow them back to Rutgers in the form of special guest features at Verbal Mayhem.
Marwa Adina, a second-year poet and member of the 2016 Rutgers Slam Team, says that the collective is an all around welcoming group to any and all people of all interests. She calls it a “stepping stone for anyone that likes to get involved in the [Rutgers] community because we announce a lot of events [going on around campus and New Brunswick before the open mic begins].
“It’s where I go when I forget who I am and what I’m supposed to be doing, and I’m reminded that everyone loses their way and we all shall overcome” – Gabrielle Roldan [Host of Verbal Mayhem]
The topics shared in the room each week range from politically charged issues, to personal stories of past relationships, the challenges of being a student, and everyday occurrences during life. The space can also take on a more serious atmosphere, addressing topics of suicide, depression, and domestic abuse. The courage and will to share these poems in front of 100 or more students every week is a testament to the close-knit relationships that are birthed within the room. There is a common understanding and trust that what is shared in the space stays within the Verbal family. The different topics and perspectives that are brought up in the poetic performances also bear witness to the diversity among the members that supersedes race and gender, but additionally delves into economic status, cultural and national allegiances, regional ideologies, and sexual orientation.
Current Treasurer, Yvans Tsague, a soft-voiced poet who can produce metaphors and analogies that will stop you in your tracks says,
“It’s about Verbalizing your thoughts on paper as raw or polished as you see fit, in front of an audience full of passion for good poetry and free of judgment”
Verbal Mayhem meets on College Avenue every Wednesday night at 9 p.m. – midnight. As of October 5th, 2016, the Collective will be leaving the second floor of Murray Hall in room 210, and transitioning to Voorhees Hall in room 105. Verbal Mayhem sends out important messages about open mics and other events via their Facebook page. Join them at facebook.com/groups/VerbalMayhem.