Two poets will visit Yale next week for a show exploring topics ranging from mental health to sexual identity.
“Odes For You,” co-hosted by Voke, Queer Caucus and the Yale LGBTQ Co-Op, will bring together acclaimed spoken word performers Shira Erlichman and Angel Nafis for a performance next Tuesday evening. In the past, Nafis has represented New York City in the National Poetry Slam while Erlichman has had her work published in the Huffington Post and Buzzfeed.
Adrien Gau ’17, an event organizer, said that the event was initially Erlichman and Nafis’ idea, as they reached out to Gau first.
“The reason why these folks reached out to me is because they’re queer artists, and one of them is a queer artist of color, and the previous people I had worked with were also both artists of color,” Gau said. “For centuries, queer voices, female voices and people of color’s voices have been marginalized in Western society, and so I find it of utmost importance to be elevating these voices above all others.”
The event will be preceded by a writing workshop and is sponsored by the Office of LGBTQ Resources, the Wallace-Sexton Fund for LGBT Studies, the Intercultural Affairs Council, the Poynter Fellowship and the Women’s Center.
The performance itself will consist of seven to 10 interwoven poems, monologues, songs and jokes through which the artists will engage with each other as well as the audience. Brian Matusovsky ’19, one of the directors of Voke, said the two artists will follow in the footsteps of other famous poets such as Pablo Neruda, Sharon Olds and Lucille Clifton in celebrating not only the world’s cultures and diversity, but also its objects and obscenities.
Similarly, Gau said the writers’ poems focus on a wide range of topics, from love and the universe to moisturizers and medicine.
Gau said that the identities of both of the artists — both are queer females and one is black — are also aspects of the performance they hope the audience will be able to learn about. Gau noted that poets’ individual stories about mental health, race and love can leave a lasting impression on participants’ thoughts and their perspectives of others.
“The audience response has been so powerful. It’s clear people are looking for places to feel, and to release what’s been pent up,” Erlichman said. “Our show is queer, unapologetic and speaks to various issues such as mental health, racism, chronic illness and stigma, threaded through with a deep note of joy and what we hope is a sense of empowered clarity.”
Erlichman said she is thrilled to have the chance to perform at Yale. Having traveled across the country separately for years, both Erlichman and Nafis have wanted to tour together for some time, Erlichman said.
She noted that the performance will be radical in its attempt to subvert the poetry’s traditional form by paying tribute to objects and people that are usually considered “messy, annoying or even dark.” During a time when the United States has such a controversial president, she said, it is especially important to bring these odes to light.
Desmond Amuh ’18, the student leader of Queer Caucus, said it is important for people to see positive and affirming representations of their identities. In this event, he said he hopes the groups have created a space that is especially welcoming to queer students and students of color. Asuh said the event will be an opportunity for all who attend to grow and learn.
“Performing has been a relief for us, an outlet. We feel uplifted and charged,” Erlichman said. “We have a beautiful community back in Brooklyn and yet, being on the road is really the best thing for us now. It is a way to be proactive and give whatever beauty we’ve got inside us to as many people as we can, every night.”
Erlichman and Nafis will be performing at the Columbus Theater in Providence, Rhode Island after their visit to Yale.
Correction, Feb. 27: An earlier version of this story mistakenly referred to Adrien Gau ’17 as the head of Queer + Asian.