Four Mills College graduate students recently performed their poetry to a packed audience at a local cultural center to mark their return from a week-long tour in the Pacific Northwest.
Known as the Poetic Liberation Collective, the students performed Jan. 24 at La Peña Cultural Center in Berkeley. It included a special performance by Maya Chinchilla, who is a spoken word artist and fellow Mills graduate student.
“It was great to see Mills students perform outside of Mills,” said junior Jules Shendelman.
The group, also known by their blog as the “high maintenance collective,” consists of Annah Anti-Palindrome, Jezebel Delilah X, Meg Day and Na’amen Tilahun, who are all currently enrolled in the MFA creative writing and poetry programs. They describe themselves collectively as “queer identified, feminist and all very interested in using literature, music, art and performance as a form of social justice activism,” according to an e-mail from X.
“I identify with the three of them in ways that are really moving,” said Anti-Palindrome. “We inspire each others’ work.”
Each of the performers had a distinct style, from Day’s integration of sign language to Anti-Palindrome recording the sound of an egg cracking into her background loop. X described Anti-Palindrome as an “electro-acoustic/experimental musician and queer/femme antagonist” and in addition to the cracking egg sound she used such diverse mediums as a spinning wheel, throat gargling and a projection screen.
However, each of their works “both solo and collaborative explores the way we exist within our skins and the places where our existences meet/merge/war using music, movement and words” according to their website.
“I liked hearing the recurring themes — for example, sound. It’s interesting how interconnected their different stuff is,” said Shendelman.
“It wasn’t planned,” said Day, “But when you bring queers together, you realize there’s so little voicing of experience. That’s the depressing part — that we’re surprised there’s commonalities.”
Tilahun, who performed several spoken-work pieces focused on relationships, said, “We all have different focuses but our work is linked by being a part of the same community.”
The performers rotated in two shifts, with each one doing two sets of several pieces each, except for Chinchilla’s performance which started off the night to wild applause and cheering. Dressed originally in a trench coat, Chinchilla slowly removed her outer garments while she performed, exclaiming “it’s kind of hot in here!” and placing each item on the woman she used as a music stand.
Chinchilla described herself to the audience as a “cha cha chapina in hiking heels, becoming the kind of artist she always was.” according to her blog. She has been involved in various spoken word projects and has directed two documentary films, according to her blog.
The pieces she performed were mostly about relationships and her identity as a femme lesbian, referring in her work to “gender deviant femme drama and butch trauma.”
X performed second, starting with a piece about body image, which, like Chinchilla, resulted in her taking off her clothes — this time down to a matching red bra and panties set.
“This is my body,” she said. “I am the only person who can say my body is beautiful, and guess what? I say it.” In her other pieces she reflected on diverse topics as love, politics and queer domestic violence.
Tilahun, went next, and was described by X as the “dyke-tyke lesbro,” went next. Tilahun said he is interested in “not just romantic relationships, [but] also friendships and how we negotiate the spaces between each other.”
As the group’s only male, he adds an interesting perspective, but “he’s hands-down the most on top of his s–t feminist queer man I’ve ever met,” said Anti-Palindrome, who herself integrates feminist ideals into her multimedia work.
“I identify as a musician and a writer equally. Writing gives me a format to organize the sound,” said Palindrome. “I will write a song, and think of signifiers – literal objects that signify a deeper meaning, so that it creates a dialogue between viewing and listening. I like to say that it’s ‘optical sound.'”
Day’s spoken word pieces covered many of the same themes, but added her own experience to the mix, including piece on the queer community’s attitude towards HIV/AIDS and her relationship with her mother. She later collaborated with Anti-Palindrome on a piece called the “Dead Mom Sonnets.”
The group embarked on a five-day tour during the second week in January, performing at two venues in Portland, Ore. and holding a salon in Klickitat, Wash. “We just picked which days we could go and saw what shows we could do during that time,” said Tilahun.
All the performances were a success, according to the members.
According to Tilahun and Anti-Palindrome, the performance was especially popular at Sexual Minorities Youth Resource Center (SMYRC), a drop-in resource center for gay and lesbian youth in Portland.
“It was amazing,” said Deb Goodman, a student at UC Hastings who attended the performance at La Peña. “I liked how they mixed personal, powerful feelings with socioeconomic and social justice issues.”