There are words that resonate so significantly with you that they will never leave you. Even if they’re not at the forefront of your mind, there are certain words and phrases that remain in the fringes of your consciousness, innocuous and dormant until a series of events in your life line up just right and—bam! They come flooding back, as striking and powerful as when you first heard them.
Last weekend’s Sister Outsider show—the brainchild of slam poets Denice Frohman and Dominique Christina—was full of this unforgettable power. It was full of words that I don’t want to forget, words and stories that were so important and so bold and so strong that they are still making my head spin.
I heard stories that reflected my own experiences. One of Denice’s first poems evoked memories of San Antonio and of my city’s linguistic evolution. I could go anywhere in San Antonio and easily hear both Spanish and English spoken with such frequency that they blurred into one another, creating hybrid dialects that speak with the hip and bone and hand clapping salsa dance of our native tongue. Denice’s story of her mother’s accent is also the story of my family and of my home: we have adopted English on our own terms. Our Spanglish, our accents and our identities do not need to be fixed—the way we see it, they were never broken in the first place. Not even two poems in, and my heart swelled when hearing someone so aptly articulate what I’d spent years and years trying to understand: “[We] waited too many years for [our] voice to arrive to be told it needed housekeeping.”
I heard stories that made me cry. At one point, Dominique came up to the mic and stood there solemnly, her voice reverberating through the room as she told us the story of four little girls who perished in a church bombing during the 1960s Civil Rights Movement. We had previously been told to return the energy we were given and snap, clap, moan and yell for our poets. But here we were stunned silent. Time froze. We dared not move as beautiful words painted images in our heads, and we remained still as those same words slowly tore down everything they’d built. Dominique did not care if this elaborate deconstruction made us uncomfortable. She told us multiple times that she was not here to entertain or amuse—she wanted us to feel, wanted us to ask questions, wanted us to think about and remember and understand what she was saying, even if it would break our hearts in the process.
I heard stories that woke me up. They were stories that pushed us to see the victims of hate as people rather than numbers. The poets called us out on our perception of the world from within our insulated Stanford Bubble and challenged us to think harder. Treyvon Martin is not just a hoodie, they proclaimed. The story of Mike Brown is constantly delineated by unnecessary questions like “Was he armed?” or “Was he a criminal?” or “What did his online profile picture look like?” – and after a while, the vision of Mike Brown in the social consciousness becomes one of a dehumanized thug. The poets tore that image down.
Dominique and Denice did not shy away from calling us out on our social apathy. These people are not just marketable images that you can share on social media to help you sleep better at night. Do not forget, they warned, do not forget that the fallen were once human beings with thoughts and dreams and lives to live. They are people whose lost lives are still mourned for every day, and more of these injustices are added to the list on a regular basis. “This is not poetry,” Dominique roared at a later point, “this is rage unmuted.” This is something we are not allowed to ignore.
I heard the kind of stories that were penned in a moment of pure catharsis. In their brief preambles, the poets outlined how they’ve grown as artists and learned to fight back with their words.
Dominique pulled out “The Period Poem”, in which she fucking destroyed the patriarchy. Evoking the patriarchy is not something I do lightly, or ever really feel compelled to reference in such a way, but there is no other way to describe it. It was an ode to the beauty of the female anatomy, it was a stand for feminist ideology, and it was the most beautifully written counterargument towards ignorance that I have ever heard. She closed off her set with some illuminating food for thought: “To those in the room feeling discomfort… I don’t care.”
Denice performed two poems in a row: one dedicated to straight people and one to white people. They were short, messy, highly charged streams of consciousness that fleshed out the intricacies and nuances of her personal feelings towards mass misunderstanding—a little bit of sadness, a little bit of anger, a little bit of confusion and a whole lot of “fuck you” was stuffed into those minute-long pieces.
At the close of Denice’s “1-800-White Male Privilege Hotline” (also the closer of the night), the pent-up energy in the room was palpable. We reached a tipping point where controlled, polite applause was no longer enough; before even processing what was happening, I found myself on my feet, jumping and clapping and yelling with everyone else. Their words were just that compelling, that beautiful, that real and that resonant.
I’m sure that some catalyst in the near future will have me recalling Denice’s ode to Muhammad Ali and the power of a name or Dominique’s poem about womanhood and self-reflection. There are very few times in my life where I have had the privilege to experience this kind of powerful display of the spoken word firsthand. Those two hours gave me enough words to ruminate and wonder about for the next two months, two years, two decades. Time will render them dormant and try to bury them beneath new words and new memories, but then—bam! Denise and Dominique’s words will rush back, not to be so easily forgotten.
Photos and videos courtesy of Sister Outsider.