This weekend, Yale’s oldest spoken word group will kick off its season with a discussion of racial identity and history.
Jook Songs, an Asian-American spoken word group, will host its fall show, “Harbor,” tonight and tomorrow night in the Calhoun Cabaret. Seven of the group’s 12 members will perform spoken word pieces focusing on issues that include ethnic tradition and family. Austin Long ’15, the treasurer of Jook Songs, said the group aims to illuminate the Asian-American voice in the broader spoken word community, noting that he believes Asian-Americans are often underrepresented in such performance genres.
“When you think of spoken word, you don’t usually think of people like us,” Long said. “But we’re here to change that and show that our experiences are valid as well.”
Group members interviewed said the theme for the show stems from its title. Used as both a verb and a noun, “harbor” is a word that can have many different meanings, said Hayun Cho ’17, a member of Jook Songs and Word, another performance poetry group on campus. She explained that when used as a verb, “harbor” can refer to when a person shelters emotions or shields someone from the cold.
Cho added that the term could also evoke a sense of coming or returning home because oftentimes the image of ships in a harbor mean symbolize leaving or returning from a journey. She noted that each of the group’s shows has a single-word title. Jessica Yuan ’15, president of Jook Songs, mentioned that the group’s aesthetic focuses on topics close to the Asian-American community that are rarely discussed and that each show title embodies multiple meanings.
Long said the name of the group comes from the Cantonese words “Jook Sing,” which translate into “hollow bamboo.” This was used as a term to refer to Chinese people who were born overseas or strongly associate with western culture, he added, noting that he thinks the group’s purpose is to show that Asian-Americans at Yale are not “hollow” in their character. Cho said she believes the group provides members with a sense of solidarity and comfort as they freely express their daily thoughts.
“To be honest, there aren’t a lot of spaces like it at Yale where people who share similar bonds can come together and feel free to write and perform whatever they want,” Cho said.
Members of the group also said that their style of spoken word focuses on pieces that are usually longer and emotionally calmer than what other undergraduate groups of the same genre typically perform.
Yuan said that while the group’s performances have traditionally seated their audience in rows around the stage, the venue this year will be arranged so that attendees sit around tables on which food will be provided. The mood of this show is meant build a closer relationship between performers and members of the audience, she added.
“This is the first year we’re doing the show cabaret style with snacks and tables, so we’re hoping that it will foster conversation among the audience and a sense of bonding,” Yuan said. “That way, even as they are listening to our stories, they can converse about their own after the show.”
Jook Songs was founded in 1998.