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A Nation of Unrest: Addressing Politics Through Poetry

A soft light shined down on Suzannah Van Gelder’s long, curly red hair. She stood behind a podium, and tightly held a sheet of paper.

“Silent is the aftermath of a school shooting,” Van Gelder said, as her hands gripped the podium. The full crowd fell silent.

“An Orlando nightclub shooting. A Las Vegas concert shooting. So…I have these thoughts.”

Sophomore Suzannah Van Gelder reads her poem, “The New Communion” at the Spit That! showcase on Oct. 10, 2017.

Van Gelder, a member of Spit That!, Ithaca College’s spoken word poetry club, shared her poem during a recent performance at Ithaca College. Her poem, “The New Communion,” addresses gun violence and male dominance in American history.

“I just wanted to think of a world where women of all colors, creeds and religious backgrounds created the world, because they really are champions for everyone,” Van Gelder said.

A Nation of Unrest

Van Gelder explains her poem: “I just wanted to think of a world where women of all colors, creeds and religious backgrounds created the world, because they really are champions for everyone.”

On Oct. 11, 2017, Spit That! held its first performance of the semester in the Handwerker Gallery on the Ithaca College campus. The theme, “A Nation of Unrest,” aimed to address America’s political climate through poetry. Eight poets recited their works addressing gun control, protests, racism, and sexism.

“We wanted to have a night devoted to speaking about what’s happening in this country,” senior Courtney Ravelo, co-president of Spit That!, said. “There are a lot of topics being covered.”

A Reason to Speak

The club, founded in 2006 by Jaylene Clark, aims to develop member’s poetry techniques while spreading awareness of sociopolitical issues through poetry performances. Senior Noa Livernois, said poetry is, and has always been, linked to politics.

Seniors Courtney Ravelo (left) and Noa Livernois are the co-presidents of Spit That!, Ithaca College’s spoken poetry group

“I feel like the idea that art isn’t political is weird and strange,” Livernois said. “It’s really important to bring politics into a space that already just goes for it because you can actually talk about things. You don’t have to hold back, censor yourself, or change your opinions.”

Van Gelder said she feels obligated to address political inequalities. She said she likes to explore social justice issues through the arts.

“I think my poem relates to the sense of unrest in our country,” Van Gelder said. “When history is written by only one demographic it only works for that one demographic. If history is written by white men and if politics are controlled by white men – particularly rich white men – it only works for rich white men.”

Everything is Political

Livernois, who did not read a poem at the event, said almost everything Spit That! focuses on relates to America’s political climate. Most of the members in the group, they said, are inherently involved in politics based on their identities.

“A statement I live by is that the personal is political,” Livernois said. “Politics can seem like an alienated concept, but when you think about it, everything is political….We shouldn’t be afraid of [speaking up] because our whole life is political.”

Ravelo said she believes keeping quiet about political turmoil is a privilege, and Spit That! is an opportunity to address both this privilege and politics.

“What we strive for when we speak about these issues is just that silence is a bigger statement than an actual statement,” Ravelo said. “You can’t just choose to ignore the things that don’t affect you.”

Spit That! meets every Tuesday night at 8:30 p.m. in the ALS room in West Tower when classes are in session. More information can be found here.

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