Courtesy of Camilla Tassi

On March 5, Yale’s oldest spoken word group, WORD, and the Yale Undergraduate Jazz Collective, held a crossover event. The show, which featured jazz music and spoken poetry, was streamed live on Youtube.

The audiovisual event featured four different poems, each accompanied by a unique artistic and musical backdrop.

“The traditions of jazz and poetry have long been intertwined,” Jason Altshuler ’23, president of YUJC said as he opened the show. “We’re so excited to be a part of this conversation tonight.”

Oscar Lopez ’22, president of WORD, added a statement on the origins of spoken word. “In the beginning was the word, the origins of spoken word poetry are the origins of language itself; poems were how we kept our people alive.” 

Lopez also acknowledged the Black legacies of jazz, blues and storytelling which eventually gave rise to spoken word poetry. He attributed participants’ performances to “history” and “lineage.”

According to Atlshuler, the event was first conceived last spring. Calvin Kaleel ’22, a YUJC bassist who has connections with WORD, initially proposed the collaboration.

Atshuler said the event’s virtual format allowed organizers to introduce unique aspects to the performance that would have been impossible under normal circumstances. Specifically, he noted that the event could be viewed by “friends and family” around the world and enjoyed “beyond the night of the event itself.”

The first poem, “Microcosmos,” featured images of Jarron Long ’23 and Calvin Kaleel ’22 in front of a sunset. Other jazz players were gradually illuminated on screen against an unchanging visual of the moon. 

“All that is left of me is this side of the moon,” Baylina Pu ’23 read. “It is no wonder that here \ under the trees covered with the sweat of mist and sleeping bodies of fungi \ I can only bear to fix my gaze on the sky.” 

As Pu read, images of sunflowers, the moon and ocean backlit videos of the jazz players and Pu. According to her, the group that created “Microcosmos” was most focused on synthesis between the “flow and character of the music, visuals and poem.” In this way, all of the poem’s elements were able to inhabit the same atmosphere.

In the second poem, titled “Cobalt,” a clip from an anime show called “Cowboy Bebop” accompanied Logan Klutse ’23 performing his poem. 

“I am told in my classes that I write mostly about my family \ that when I write \ I write mostly in shades of blue,” Klutse read, against an animated background of a man climbing a dark staircase. “It is never enough for my observers to leave a growing thing to ripen in peace \ to witness abundance without dreaming of theft \ I would like to tell my professors \ that there is nothing more intolerable than being pitied.” 

Lopez read the third poem, titled “Amy.” It was presented alongside a series of landscapes.  

“How much hurting did it take before the broken mirror in Amy’s throat turned to stain glass with her singing \ her words, unfurling out from her teeth like willow branches, he read.” 

When creating the experience, Atshuler reflected that the groups decided to add a visual aspect to the music and poetry to make it a “full multimedia experience.”

The fourth poem was titled “Love and Food,” performed by Christina Hijiya ’22. It was accompanied by a video of a grocery store trip and the preparation of a meal. 

Hijiya read, “Somewhere \ there’s a world \ where every love begins in the kitchen … When this pandemic is over, after the locusts, flies, frog and water turning into flood \ I want to feed you and everyone I love \ in the same place.” 

Pu reflected that the project’s remote development reminds viewers that “art is definitely very much alive, as are the communities that form around it.”

The YUJC held its first meeting in 2012.

Maia Decker | maia.decker@yale.edu

Correction, Mar. 31: A previous version of this story misspelled Pu’s poem as “Microcosms.” In fact, the title of the poem is “Microcosmos.” The story has been updated.