Porsha Olayiwola (or Porsha O.), Boston’s poet laureate and an Individual World Poetry Slam champion, graced Peirce Pub as part of Black Student Union’s celebrations for Black History Month. Students stirred anxiously waiting for the performance to begin, and friendly, supportive energy permeated the crowd.
Leading up to Porsha O.’s reading, six student poets recited their own work on issues concerning nearly everything from identity to race.
As the poets geared up to go on stage, their first steps into the spotlight each ignited a round of boisterous applause and cheering from members of the audience. Each had their own distinct voice when reading their work; Mo Kamara ’22 and Selam Habtemariam ’22 even sang sections of their poems.
The most common theme of the night’s poetry was racial injustice, an oft talked about aspect of Black History Month. While some had comedic undertones, others were deeply serious and drew intense focus and empathy from the audience. One poet wrote, “Kenyon will never be safe for black bodies,” setting off a series of snaps and vocal reactions from the audience. Edward Moreta ’22 came “out of retirement” for his reading, in which he performed four pieces, the last of which discussed being a person of color in a white-dominated space—in this particular instance, reading in Prospect Park, Brooklyn, where people would glare at him for reading a book. Sound of agreement echoed from the crowd, signifying that Moreta had touched upon a shared experience.
Closing the section of student slam poets, Kamara provided the introduction for Porsha O., who she has been a fan since she was 15 years old. Porsha O. defines herself as being “half-Chicagoan and half-Nigerian,” and the “half-Chicagoan” part of her identity prompted a series of Chicago-related inquiries from members of the audience from the Windy City.
Porsha O. read from her book I Shimmer Sometimes, Too, published in January of 2019. Interspersingly, she would look at the book for one poem, but then abruptly drop it and recite another from her head. She performed both ways with the same fervor and graceful hand gestures, resulting in a captivating and powerful performance.
“My trick is to go slow so I can process what I’m saying, because the nerves are going to make it go faster anyway,” she said.
Her poetry and style of reading caused a visceral reaction in the audience, often through laughter, but also with a thoughtful “Oh” as if her sentence vocalized something difficult to put into words.
Many of Porsha O.’s poems are centered around being black, gay or female; she defines herself as an afrofuturistic poet, a term coined by author Mark Dery in 1993 to describe poets exploring the intersection between the African Diaspora and technology.
Porsha O. has a unique connection with poetry which clearly comes out on stage. Her indelible presence is now impressioned on Peirce Pub, Kenyon and Black History Month.