Photo by Katie Greene/STAFF
On Sept. 14 in the University Center, spoken word poet Elizabeth Acevedo encouraged the audience at her reading to use a certain term whenever they heard something they especially liked: “Wepa!” This is a Spanish term used to express jubilation or celebration.
A poet and educator, Acevedo was born and raised in New York City by her Dominican parents and has an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Maryland. Over the past twelve years, Acevedo has performed in well-known venues, acquired national slam poetry titles. given multiple TED Talks, and even taught grade eight English. Her poetry has appeared in various magazines and publications, including “Puerto Del Sol” and “Poet Lore,” and she is soon to release a chapbook, or small paperback booklet, titled “Beastgirl & Other Origin Myths.”
Acevedo’s performance was compelling, chilling and incredibly powerful. Her work reflected her pride and struggles with her cultural background and dealt with topics such as love, womanhood, sexual assault and race.
However, even powerful performers get nervous, a reminder that they are just as human as anyone else. Minutes before Acevedo went on stage she sat hunched over in a chair on the front row, contemplating, with her head in her hands. Mentally preparing herself, she stretched to both sides and tousled her wild mop of perfect ringlets.
After bouncing up on stage with a rhythmic step only expected of a slam poet and a glowing smile, the first poem Acevedo performed talked of rats and their admirable qualities. It was inspired by a professor in graduate school that told the young poet rats were not worthy of writing about.
“All of our stories are worthy of poetry,” said Acevedo as reasoning for why she wrote the poem.
Another poem dealt with Acevedo’s Latina heritage.
“Remember who we are, where we come from, regardless of where that is,” said Acevedo before performing the poem.
This piece talked about the heavy conflict of growing up in America with a foreign family.
“Our stories cannot be checked into boxes,” claimed Acevedo in the poem, promoting pride of all minority cultures and backgrounds.
Acevedo’s poetry about womanhood and expressing issues on the objectivity of women in society spoke to many members of the audience, prompting many snaps and sounds of approval.
“I grew up very aware of my body as an object,” said Acevedo when explaining her own experiences.
A few short poems addressed men who had catcalled Acevedo and the sometimes ridiculous phrases that were said to her. Other poems went deeper into the issue and discussed sexual assault along with the question of how to raise a son or daughter in our “rape-culture” society.
“It almost curdles my womb dry, these stories,” said Acevedo in one of her poems; referring to the rape and sexual assault stories she has heard.
In one powerful line Acevedo declared, “Her ‘no’ is not a moan.”
Sexual assault was not the only current societal issue Acevedo discussed in her poetry. Racial tensions and the fear she and her black husband have felt as minorities in our society are made real in her work.
“We keep on sitting at this dinner table,” spoke Acevedo with contemptuous sadness. “Tombstones of those that haven’t died yet crumbling in our mouths.”
Acevedo ended her set with a rap verse she wrote when she was 13 years old that she uses to give her confidence and build herself up when she’s feeling small. She challenged the audience to “write yourself a rap verse,” claiming its ability to boost your self-esteem.
“Spit it to yourself,” she said. “When you need some affirmation.”
Other advice she gave the audience was that, “We are better human beings when we create,” encouraging everyone to spend time being creative and indulging in our inspirations.
On this note, “Wepa!” rippled through the room both physically and silently in the minds of those who were present.
If you are interested in learning more about Elizabeth Acevedo and her poetry, visit her website, www.acevedopoetry.com, or follow her on social media under the tag @acevedowrites. Be on the lookout for her chapbook which is scheduled to be released at the beginning of October.