Students speak out, get loud with Verbal Mayhem poetry collective


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Photo by Luo Zhengchen |

The first floor of Murray Hall gradually echoed with voices walking toward room 114 for the weekly open mic night of the Verbal Mayhem Poetry Collective.

Members piled into the classroom, filling desk seats and then sitting on the floor when the seats were filled.

As the clock ticked closer to 9:15 on Wednesday night in Murray, located on the College Avenue campus, Michael Anderson, a School of Arts and Sciences junior, chalked “power to the pencil,” “writing is essential” and “make a fool of yourself” on the board to re-energize incoming members for a night of verbal art and finger-snapping action.

Among the many adept performers from Verbal’s most recent open mic, “Anthony” sang and played guitar to a song about lonely hearts, “Jason” poetically narrated the intimacy of middle names and coffee and “Fide1is” recited a piece he titled, “Animal Farm.”

Sharing at Verbal is the “most amazing feeling” in the world, said Jeremy Goldsmith, vice president of Verbal Mayhem and a School of Arts and Sciences senior.

“You hear people spill their deepest secrets when you don't even know their name,” he said. “Before I knew their last names, I knew about abuse in their family or crazy mental health stories or drug abuse.”

The student-run organization is not merely comprised of poets and poetry, Goldsmith said. While most performances are poetry, there are also rappers, singers, guitarists, storytellers and comedians. Artists often perform original work, but a typical night will feature at least one or two performances of unoriginal work as a way to pay homage to artists who inspire them.

Poetry is an incredibly effective form of self-expression, Goldsmith said.

“Poetry allows us to go so deeply inside of our own minds and emotions. And when someone has the courage to share what's so far inside of them, well, that's just the ultimate form of courage to me,” he said. “Confronting your fears, joys and insecurities in front of a group of 60 students is incredibly admirable.”

Nothing feels as powerful as performing at Mayhem while the audience snaps fingers and nods heads in agreement, Goldsmith said.

Sharing art and performing at Verbal Mayhem is “far more superior” than sharing it anywhere else, he said. Goldsmith wants members to be the first one to hear new pieces he wrote. It is important to him to receive feedback before he shows his work to others because he values the opinion of the club so much.

“Verbal Mayhem is actually my family and the connection I've made with the members is unbreakable," he said.

As a regular performer and audience member, Goldsmith said hearing stories from other performers through whatever means is natural to them, is "cool." He feels connected to everyone from Verbal Mayhem through a really special bond.

“I kind of feel like its this 'Fight Club' kind of thing where you see people (outside of Mayhem) and you just nod at them and be thinking, ‘Yo, I know so much about you,’” he said.

Verbal Mayhem contributes a kind and little public service to accompanying members, he said.

“It provides therapy,” Goldsmith said. “Anything that is on your mind for the week, you can express yourself and people will listen and will care. For those five minutes you’re up there, you can say whatever you need and people will appreciate it.”

Fourth timer and School of Engineering sophomore Bryan Jaramillo said Verbal Mayhem is the “release of the week” for him, and that attending weekly Mayhem open mics is all he thinks about to get him through hump-day.

“Honestly, this is my fourth time coming here, but I love it,” he said. “This is the best part of my week.”

The "coolest" thing about the organization is to hear 30 different performers with 30 different stories every Wednesday at Mayhem, said Anthony Pizzo, a general executive board member of Verbal Mayhem and a School of Arts and Sciences junior.

“I don’t even see a lot of these people outside of (Verbal Mayhem), but I really get to know them every week just from seeing them perform poetry,” Pizzo said.

To him, Mayhem is a safe space with no censorship or requirements.

A couple of years ago, a female audience member came in, but never performed, he said. Instead she sat and drew about what poets and singers were sharing.

Goldsmith said Verbal Mayhem's doors are open to anyone and everyone.

The club has given him heightened confidence, a close group of friends and an avenue to sharpen his craft of rapping.

“Attending Verbal Mayhem each week gives me an opportunity to consistently get feedback on my work, and hear the dopest material from other members that inspires me to keep writing," Goldsmith said. “The worst part for me is waiting a week.”


Natasha Tripathi

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