Student orgs bring dynamic slam poet to perform at VC

What is it that encompasses the meaningfulness of words, the rhythm of poem, the energy of rap, the dynamic of tones, gestures and facial expressions, and the sheer influential power of an unforgettable performance? The spoken word poetry by G Yamazawa might be one answer.

Winner of Kollaboration DC, the National Poetry Slam, the Southern Fried Poetry Slam, and countless other competitions, Yamawaza creates and performs spoken word poetry that combines the rich Southern history of his hometown in North Carolina with his Japanese ancestry. Introducing him as “your favorite poet’s favorite poet,” two students organizations, Wordsmiths and the Asian Students Alliance, worked together to bring to campus the event A Night of Spoken Word Poetry with G Yamazawa, taking place in Sanders Auditorium at 9pm, Nov. 22. In addition to the performance, a special workshop with Yamawaza will also take place the same day at 3pm.

The planning of this event can be traced back to last winter when members on the executive board of the Asian Student Alliance (ASA) attended the Spring Conference of East Coast Asian American Student Union at Washington D.C. There they saw Yamazawa’s performance, and found it moving and impressive. Cindy Liu ’16, co-president of the ASA, said in an email statement, “I personally, loved his performance. The amount of feelings he is able to capture in his words is astounding.”

Kevin Lee ’17, an ASA member who was also at the conference,commented on Yamazawa’s performance as an Asian American. He stated, “I thought he was very passionate about his craft, and it showed with each line he delivered. The messages he spoke through poetry really resonated me as an Asian American, and I’m so glad ASA and Wordsmiths were able to bring G here to Vassar so everybody can hear his insightful take on culture and society.”

Executive board members decided to approach Yamawaza and talked to him about bringing his art to Vassar. Michelle Zhao ’16, explained the logistics of inviting a performer like Yamawaza to campus, “We approached him and we really wanted to bring him to Vassar. We actually talked about bringing him last semester. But his scheduling didn’t allow.”

The ASA reached out to Wordsmiths as well. One reason behind the decision to collaborate with another organization was funding. “We usually contribute our own funds, but we apply to VSA funds as well since there’re just so many speakers we would like to invite here. For G, we applied for VSA Speaker Fund because we are cooperating with Wordsmiths, and VSA is more willing to provide us with funding to encourage organizational collaboration,” Zhao said. The organizations have a history of working together, which has contributed to strong cooperation between the two. “We also collaborated with Wordsmiths to bring Sarah and Phil Kaye last year, which was a huge success. And this was one of the main reasons why we decided to reach out to them to bring G.” Liu explained in an email statement.

Moreover, common interest and fondness of the performer facilitated the cooperation between the ASA and Wordsmiths.

Hannah Matsunaga ‘15, president of Wordsmiths talked about her love of Yamawaza’s art and poetry. She said, “G is one of my favorite artists, and I’ve been thinking about bringing him here some time.”

Matsunaga continued, “I think one of the things that’s really compelling about G’s writing and performance is that you can tell it’s from this very big heart, this place of deep care…He also has this energy that’s so dynamic and so impressive that it feels good to watch him perform.”

As a poetry lover and writer, Matsunaga also shared her take on spoken word as a form of poetry. “I don’t believe in a real distinction between poetry that’s for the page and that’s supposed to be read out loud. There’s something you can do with spoken word that you can’t do with page and there’s something you can do with page that you can’t do with spoken word. But I don’t totally agree with the idea that there’re separate classes of poetry.”

Both organizations have extensive experiences in organizing and hosting major events and speakers. The ASA brings several speakers each semester to give talks on issues relevant across disciplines.

“In the past, we always brought more speakers, about three or four, in the spring. But this year want to do the same for the fall. So we brought Phil Yu this past weekend. And G’s for this weekend. And we’re bringing a chef to do a cooking workshop the last day of classes.” Said Zhao.

On the other hand, Wordsmiths brings well-known slam poets and performers to campus once a semester. “Wordsmiths has brought high profile spoken word poets about once a semester, every semester for the past. Going on the fourth year now. I the past we have brought poets like Anis Mojgani, Mo Browne, Phil Kaye and Sarah Kay, & Carlos Andrés Gomez. And those have all been really good events,” explained Matsunaga.

This time, however, they had to find a way of working with another organization. “The whole event is collaborative. We try to split the labor as evenly as possible. The ASA has been working out details of the contract with G and his agent. And we on the other side have been dealing with the VSA. Sometimes collaborating like that is hard because there’re so many people and it’s easy for things to slip into cracks. But there’s no way we could claim that this is our event,” Matsunaga spoke about the cooperation with the ASA.

Liu agreed, “Overall we worked together well. Of course there were times when there were communication issues, but we managed to get through that and both orgs are super excited for him to come this Saturday.”

Cooperation also extends to the publicity of the event .

They also tried to break the Vassar Bubble by seeking to engage the larger Poughkeepsie community. “We also asked Events  in Poughkeepsie to advertise this event as well, because this is a public event.” Zhao showed us a contact email with Event in Poughkeepsie.

With the event around the corner, both organizations expressed their high expectations for it. Zhao said. “We want it to provide entertainment, but also have an effect on people in and outside ASA. G is of Japanese heritage. So with his talents and poetry, hopefully his stories will touch people.”

Matsunaga described how she hopes this Saturday night would be like, “I want the event to be packed. G is an incredible performer. And this is such a great opportunity we have to bring him here. I want the student to be able to make the most of it and be able to see this happen.” She added, “Our general goal is just for people to come to events, write poetry with us and share poetry with us…Also, G is just a really fun person to be around. So I guess we’re looking to have a good time whilst he’s here.”

The three organizers interviewed unanimously reminded us of the workshop in the same afternoon just before the performace. “It’s hosted by G. So special workshop!  The goal of the workshop is to get people writing, get people engaged. And hopefully help people to write poetry.” Explained Matsunaga.

She concluded with much confidence, “If anyone is on the fence about going, just look up one of G’s poems on YouTube, and that will convince you. I think we’re gonna have a really good turnout.”

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