Author: Carlos Dos Santos, C’17
There was smoke coming out of their mouths. Sometimes it was subtler, like heat waves. It hurt, penetrated through us, watching, and burned us. Then came the second stanza, the smoke changed in texture and shape as it drifted across to the crowd, through the blue and red glowing lights. I felt at once as if it were burdening me, pressing me to the ground–the unbearable bittersweet weight of a passionate literary form being performed to perfection, holding us steadfast. We marveled at the power they held over us: we cheered and cried and praised at their whims. I am an atheist. But in that moment I felt as I had always imagined a Baptist feels as the spirit of his beloved Christ washed over him and keeps him whole, and fighting on, for just another day. It was powerful, intense, comical, horrifying, depressing, and hopeful all at once. This is spoken word.
I love literature. And these people, these strangers, took every novel and poem I’d ever read and burned them in my face, released the thousands of pages over which I’ve pored over in the last ten years and released them to the wind, and that’s when I saw something I had missed before, something light-hearted and pure. It was truth–a truth that could only be perceived by mouth, not by sight. I learned, then, that literature doesn’t have to be heavy. It can be light—it can flutter. It can burn, not with a flame that kills, but one that enlivens and brightens every fiber and element of our world.
It is art in its purest form, and I never would have experienced it had it not been for the people I’ve come to know at Penn. More specifically, the Arts House Residential Program at Penn. It’s a collective group of students living in Harnwell College House that are in this program simply because they all love art, and express their love of art in different ways. I think it’s an element of Penn for which I’ll always be grateful. Penn students know how to have fun, and how to misbehave. But when it comes down to it, we never forget the important things in life. We’ll never forget art. Instead, we’ve come to Penn with our own preconceived notions of what art means to us, and from that point we continue to grow. We learn from what others have to say and never forget those words, just as I’ll never forget the words spoken by those master poets (of which, coincidentally, three are Penn alumni). The best part of it all is that we Quakers know how to have fun in style—whoever thinks that a last-minute trip to the Big Apple, to watch a spoken word performance and to then catch a red-eye bus trip back to campus, isn’t fun, doesn’t know what fun is.