Rudy Francisco’s spoken word performance at Kenyon on Saturday night was marked by warmth, vulnerability and a call for change.
“If we only concern ourselves with the things that directly affect us, we’ll be very surprised by what indirectly affects us later,” the poet told the audience.
Although much of Francisco’s work reflects his own experiences as a black man in the United States, it also highlights the experiences of other marginalized groups. Francisco demonstrated his commitment to this belief in his performance of a poem entitled “Your God,” which unpacks and criticizes homophobia within religion. Francisco’s poetry also covers many other social issues, including gun violence and toxic masculinity.
Francisco was able to perform at Kenyon thanks to Marc Delucchi ’20, who reached out to him on behalf of Kenyon Magnetic Voices (KMV) and the Black Student Union. Together, these two organizations hosted “A Night of Spoken Word,” which ran from 6-8 p.m. in Peirce Pub.
The show attracted a large crowd, many of whom said that they had been watching Francisco’s performances on YouTube since high school. The evening kicked off with KMV’s showcase of student poetry performances. The content of these poems was both serious and personal, with topics including including teen suicide, sexual assault, racism and misogyny. Delucchi briefly lightened the mood with a poem in which he compared spoken word artists to accordion players. “They are so not cool, and no one wants to hear one,” he said, eliciting laughter from the audience.
When Francisco began his set, he did not give much of an introduction, but rather quickly launched into a poem. It was immediately clear that Francisco resonated with the audience, who met many of his lines with cheers, nods, sighs or laughs. Between each poem, Francisco checked in with the audience to ask them how they were doing.
The range of emotions that Francisco expressed onstage was particularly impressive. He was sometimes conversational, sometimes bashful and often passionate. Many of his poems took the shape of a crescendo, with a soft, casual rhetoric at the beginning that built to a passionate, speech-like ending. A poem written as a letter to Francisco’s younger self was particularly touching. In this piece, Francisco chronicled his low self-esteem in high school, and told his 17-year-old self, “You’re not an accident, Rudy!” Snapping and sighing, the audience was noticeably moved. In another poem Francisco said, “My hobbies include . . . trying to convince my shadow that I’m someone worth following.” This too elicited a strong reaction from the audience.
Most of the poems Francisco read Saturday night came from his previously published books, which include Getting Stitches (2013), No Gravity (2015) and Helium (2017). However, Kenyon received a special treat when he chose to perform a new, yet-to-be-published piece. Francisco began this poem talking about items banned for sale in the US, like pufferfish and ackee fruit. The poem then shifted to an item that is not banned for sale: guns. Francisco remarked that plastic straws may soon be banned to protect the environment, and in reference to a country scattered with weapons he asked, “At what point do we say this is also the environment?”
Through his touching and amusing personal stories, Rudy Francisco cleverly brought his listeners’ attention to larger societal issues. On top of that, he has shown young people the power of poetry, both as an art form and as a vehicle for social change.