Women Spoken Word Artists
Story By: Julia Moreno // Photos by Xander Fu & Jack Lambert
Taylor Boteilho doesn’t identify as a poet, but you wouldn’t know by hearing her on stage in front of a crowd.
…Even if it reads "Taylor is a slut" I'm in holy unity with my spirituality, sexuality, and intellect
it is a balance which only I can scale and Osiris couldn't even match…
Boteilho, a senior interdisciplinary study: organizational leadership and globalization major at CWU, says she realizes the value and power of spoken word when women are able to tell their stories.
…Even if the subtext boils down to misogyny. Fear of confrontation, and confusion at who I am
Even if these lines were meant to de legitimize
characterizing me as undesirable woman
Me, me unworthy woman…
Since Boteilho works at the Center for Diversity and Social Justice as a program coordinator, she wanted to use her job to create an annual Women’s Poetry Slam to give all women a place to speak their minds freely and without judgment.
…Even if these words caused me to doubt myself. I don't have to feel weak for being soft and getting hurt…
Boteilho says she started out doing spoken word through a required work exercise through the CDSJ office and really didn’t care much for it. But then it morphed from a dislike into a love and later became a way for her to gain closure on things that had been rolling around in her head for a while.
For example, the piece she performed for this year’s slam delved into a letter she had received at work from an unknown author.
“I had been doing a lot of work that year about feminism and respecting women outside their sexuality,” she says. “I have no idea who wrote it, but some people didn’t like that. It came from a hate letter that I got and I had never closed the chapter on that, I had no idea how to respond.”
…Even if these words caused me to doubt myself. I don't have to feel weak for being soft and getting hurt
Even if it took me a year of searching realize there is no need for a conclusion on who I am…
Ruby Nambo, a sophomore secondary English major, has a quiet demeanor when you first meet her. She’s quick to smile and has a knack for remembering dates.
…One sunny afternoon, I was in a circle full of young women, with similar interests.
Normally, when I am around women, in general,
I usually have a great time, along with being friendly.
But, as I chill in the soft green grass, I decided to close my eyes and ask myself,
“How often do these ladies get a ‘thank you’ for their existence?”…
Nambo started doing spoken word when she came to CWU last year and her first performance was an Open Mic Night in the Student Union and Recreation Center Pit. She then did the Showtime at Central event last year and got booed off the stage. She says that she thought maybe spoken word wasn’t for her after that experience.
After taking a break from spoken word, Nambo received an email from Taylor Boteilho about being part of the first annual Women’s Poetry Slam last spring. Nambo asked herself if maybe this was a second chance for her.
…From the moment that mi mama gave life to me
to the mujer mentors that keep me going to achieve my dreams,
I have never heard someone say,
“Thank you for your existence.”…
Nambo says she felt welcomed when she was with the women participating in the Women’s Poetry Slam last year and got a lot of praise for the poem she performed. Spoken word has formed a lot of good relationships and given her many opportunities.
Nambo continued her theme of speaking about women this year and decided to write a thank-you letter to all the women she’s met in her life.
“My freshman year, I used to be really shy,” she says. “Now so many people know me, I will probably run into at least one person and they will say ‘hi’ to me. Maybe these poetry slams have paid off as a social aspect.”
…To the women that are beautiful and confident, thank you.
To the women leaders, you are powerful and thank you…
Selena Hernandez floats across the stage in a long black dress, her short brown hair framing her face. One arm raises the microphone to her lips, the other holds up her phone, and she starts reading.
I've never been to the Grand Canyon,
but I've seen the World’s natural wonder in her smile.
Gap tooth filling my void, laugh lines running as deep as
the Canyon’s history on either side of her cheeks
All too late, I wonder if I had
fallen through the cracks,
My back on cherry-stained dirt, her iris on shifting skies…
Hernandez, junior creative and professional writing major, performed two pieces at the Women’s Poetry Slam: one called “Canyon” and the other, “To My Abusive Lover,” which is the first one she performed for a slam. She says she mostly focuses on more personal topics like relationships, sexuality, immigration and her childhood.
…carried away the mystery of how she was made,
and I do not care how she was made
because she is here…
“My favorite thing about performing spoken word is feeling the audience’s presence when I am speaking on a lonely subject,” she says. “After a performance, people come up to thank me for sharing or tell me about how they related to the piece, which makes me glad that I didn’t back out. It’s a nice reminder that we aren’t alone in our emotions and experiences.”
Hernandez says the influence and weight of a poet’s words is what inspired her to start doing spoken word.
…Bodies collide, I hold her like a prayer and I'm thanking God
Her marbled statue disintegrates between my thumbs
and through my fingers
Over my shoulder,
the river asks for release…
“I'm inspired by being a role model to someone like a little foster girl who most of the time is told ‘no’ but could see me, an ex-foster kid, now doing my thing and in turn inspiring her to prevail,” she says.
Ashley Reynolds walks up on the stage, grasping a piece of paper, the light illuminating her slender frame. Her curls fall around her face and she tosses her head back before starting to read.
…My name is Ashley Reynolds and I’m a Rec and Tour Major
So I have some quick tips on your next Safari Expedition on the feminine position…
Reynolds says this is her first time doing spoken word and she wanted to perform this year after seeing the first Women’s Poetry Slam last year. “Spoken word just has this tangible power,” she says. “It pushes the listeners in a way that makes them really feel the words out in the air.”
…It’s important to know how to fix your own car, and even more important
To learn to get angry when people don’t let you fix your car
Cuz they are afraid that if you drive, you are going to crash
Into success and that’s only for them…
She says she wrote down different ideas and tied them together. For the poem she performed, it focused on the skills and abilities of women and tied it in with her major of recreation, tourism and events by taking audience members on a hypothetical excursion of what women face in the world.
…Now once you get there be safe of wild animals
Cuz predators and cat-calls could attack at any time
So make sure that you have a team of women at your back
And hold your head high cuz confidence scares off dogs…
“I’m really inspired by those around me that are doing amazing things. I see my peers building things that I never would have dreamed of doing,” Reynolds says.
Jazanna-Marie Ashante Riddlesprigger
Before Jazanna-Marie Ashante Riddlesprigger performed her piece, Taylor Boteilho described her as “young but wise.” And that’s the truth.
…On the days.
That you're feelin' pain.
Please take a breath and breathe my brother.
Please take a breath and breathe my brother.
Stay with us.
Don't go far away from us…
Riddlesprigger is a 16-year-old spoken word artist from the Portland area. She says Boteilho and her sister, Ana, approached her at another spoken word event and Taylor asked Riddlesprigger to perform at the Women’s Poetry Slam at CWU.
She says she’s always been a fan of writing, but started doing spoken word in seventh grade. She says she mostly writes about things she’s experienced. “Most of my writing is about the Black community. I write about my people’s history and the culture from which black people came. And about our beautiful struggle,” Riddlesprigger says.
… The revolution will be televised. Told truthfully or not you have seen unarmed black men and young boys die. By the hands of the people you say to put our trust in. And when evidence is shown that they continuously do us wrong…
She says her inspiration comes from the ability to talk about issues that normally aren’t addressed.
…The verdict is you going home free of all charges. While I am held in a confined box my mom had to put me in. Buried six feet deep. Mama I can't see. Mama I can't believe. Mama it's to dark in here for me. Mama I can't breathe…
She says that her age does have an effect on how people perceive her spoken word because she addresses controversial topics—people are surprised to hear her talk about “heavy topics.” She’s often heard that she has an “old soul.”
“I love doing spoken word because it's a way to express to others how you feel, and hopefully connect with others,” Riddlesprigger says. “It's also a way to get a message across that you believe is very important, and should be recognized.”
Riddlesprigger plans to continue doing spoken word when she attends college, but for now “my high school auditorium will work.” And she’ll continue performing at other spoken word events outside of school.
…You lose one of your children, my god.
When will the world change?
How many more names?
This hashtag list Getting longer,
every single day.
Hashtag them, hashtag say their names. Hashtag I hope the world realizes black lives matter before another one ends. Hashtag me…
For Lizzie Benson, a senior psychology major, expressing themselves is easier through their feet rather than through words.
“For me, tap dancing is my form of language. I can speak more clearly what I am saying with my sound than with words,” they say. “I have never been a great writer from a poetry standpoint, but sounds and rhythms are how I can tell my story.”
Benson has been tap dancing since they were five years old and has continued to do it throughout their life. They say they really fell in love with dancing after watching Mary Poppins. Boteilho, who was the coordinator of the event, asked Benson to perform because she wanted to have a collaborative performance with various art forms.
They danced to a song called “Little Game” by Benny, which highlights how difficult the gender binary is for people who don’t identify as either and not going outside the norm of gender stereotypes.
“I love tap dancing because it has given me a space to freely express myself. I love my dance teacher who showed me everything I could ever need to succeed as a dancer and a person,” they say. “The tap community is loving and wants people to constantly be perfecting their craft. I honestly love everything about my art."
Miraclejoy ‘MJ’ Curtis*
*Julia Moreno works with MJ Curtis at the Publicity Center
If you had to describe MJ Curtis in five words, it would be "she lights up the room.”
Curtis, junior public relations major, says she loves to perform spoken word because she gets to be as loud as she wants and there are no rules. “Words are so powerful and you can use them whichever way you like,” she says.
…Dear media, show me something real. You know like gapped teeth, stretch marks, flat breast and fat sex.
Stop showing me slim waist, straight hair and light skin as the way to be considered “bad & boujee.” Now don’t get me wrong, if those things make up who you are then let it be so.
But let me tell you why I glow…
Curtis says she’s always loved to write, but spoken word took it to “a whole new level” because it’s a creative outlet for her to speak about issues that are personal to her like “being a black woman, a motherless child and a first-generation student.” She’s been performing for the last three years.
…No not PHAT for pretty hot and tempting but FAT for fabulous and tasty.
Believe it or not, being called fat is not an insult & let me say, if one fetishizes over fat bodies doesn’t make you body positive. And being overweight doesn’t make you unhealthy…
“My inspiration is my struggle,” she says. “The personal experiences in life as a woman of color, a motherless child and coming from a low-income family motivate me to share with others how real the struggle is and how I've overcome and may even still struggle with helps me to aspire to inspire.”
…When Whitney Houston sang that famous line “I’m every woman” she wasn’t talking about we’re all the same, what she meant was we should all embrace our own kind of beautiful and love our bodies. So today, I stand on her behalf and all those phenomenal women before me to let you all know; if you want to work out, do it because it feels good. If you want a cheeseburger with extra cheese eat it with no shame. Because at the end of the day; we are every woman.
Autumn Ante Meridian
Autumn Ante Meridian has a shock of bright pink-red hair that stands out against the dark sweater they wear over a black dress. Meridian clears their throat, starts reading, stopping only to add in explanation about a certain section of the poem to the group of women who sit around them during one of the meetings prior to the Women’s Poetry Slam event.
…Not a man, not a little boy anymore.
Not a girl, not a woman, not in your eyes
Not enough of one, not enough of the other
Not he, not she…
Meridian, a sophomore interdisciplinary studies major, says throughout high school they enjoyed listening to comedic acts that talked about “being real” instead of a fake version of oneself. They say that poetry and writing has always been a passion and since attending college, they started doing more spoken word.
…Not feeling safe in my own clothes
Not in my own body
My identity is immediately related to negation…
“Poetry can be whatever you want it to be and it’s so beautiful,” they say. “I just have a keen fascination with poetry.”
…I get told I don’t want to be a woman because all it is, is pain…
For Meridian, the power of spoken word and voice are what most draws them to it, especially as a Trans* individual. “I’ve been told for most of my transition that I’m not a woman,” they say. “For that to be a part of my experience, it was really damaging.”
…Someone told me not to desecrate the temple of my body is supposed to be but if it’s a temple then why is it every time I go to pray those prayers go unanswered…
Feddie Young likes to try new things.
For instance, she decided to try out a beauty pageant and she had always wanted to go to the Disney College Program, so she did both. Her next new thing she wanted to try is spoken word, so she set out to participate in this year’s Women Poetry Slam.
...I can't do anything
I can't attend a college university because I'm not smart enough, I don't have any money and no one in my family has ever gone
I could never attain my childhood dream of being a beauty pageant queen because
I'm not a size zero, I don't walk in heels very often, and I'd probably get booed off stage for showing too much back fat and wearing an Afro…
Young, a junior sociology major, says she does public speaking at pageants and thought spoken word could be a creative way to express herself and her beliefs.
She says that she drew inspiration for her piece from people who are afraid to try new things, specifically individuals she knows from home. She says she’s often heard people tell her that trying new things might lead to failure, but for Young that’s the reason she pushes herself to try new things because of that chance of success.
She says she felt like there’s not a lot of room to explore and be creative in college, and spoken word is a way she felt she could express herself creatively. She also says she likes to be inspired by other creative people around her.
…Didn't I get accepted into all the universities I applied to senior year of high school?
Didn't I win state queen at the Regal Majesty beauty pageant? Reigned for all of 2016, Got an award for best smile and numerous compliments for elegance and strong stage presence?...
“I just really wanted to encourage people that no matter your circumstances or resources that you have. There’s still a chance that you can achieve your goals if you set big dreams” she says. “I mean, I think it’s better to set big dreams because even if you don’t achieve those big dreams you’re still going to be somewhere else then you would have been if you didn’t try in the first place.”
…Looking back at the progress I've made over the past couple years I've learned on important thing... Never let anyone tell you that you can't do something, including yourself…