Jazz, poetry meet in student expression

The Daily Pennsylvanian
February 22, 1999

The soothing sounds of poetry met the smooth flow of jazz Thursday night in an event at Kelly Writers House. That juxtaposition is the essence of Po-jazz - the annual event sponsored by the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority as part of AKA month which featured students reading original poetry and singing soul music, with soft jazz playing in the interludes.

A warm atmosphere filled the front room of the Writers House with an audience of people who seemed like old friends. Veteran performers were recognized and welcomed back to the podium, while a few first-time artists found the crowd to be very supportive, as everyone concluded his or her work to a chorus of praise and applause. The majority of the participants of Po-jazz were female and the concerns they touched on in their poems and songs included contemporary issues such as racism and sexism. Those two obstacles comprised College freshman Olarewaju Ayeni's poem "The Challenge."

College junior Rachel Smith's poetry focused on similar topics. Her "Ode to Womanhood" was based on the challenges women have faced through time, while her second poem, "Racism," described a world without any sound, an analogy to a society in which all voices are not heard. The event also featured male performers, including United Minorities Council President and College junior Chaz Howard, who sang the well-known song about segregation entitled "Old Man River." Without any accompaniment, Howard's voice filled the room with a low and clear vibrato.

The only male poet was College freshman Ejim Achi, who spoke about optimism, enthusiasm and the cynical forces that sometimes seem to govern both feelings. Other poets spoke simply of love, such as College freshman Tanji Gillman in her poem "My Inspiration." In a conversation-like style, laughing and gesturing throughout her recitation, Gilliam described the love that inspires her creativity.

Some of the poems read were much more light-hearted and even focused on issues closer to Penn, such as a poem about the nasty looks people receive when they ride an elevator in one of the high rises to the first or second floors instead of taking the stairs. Randolph Scott, a College senior and audience member, saw the evening as a success. "It was soothing, entertaining and, to be one of the only men in the audience, enlightening," he said.

And Smith, one of the coordinators of the event said that "Po-jazz is an AKA month tradition that provides an open forum for aspiring poets, or anybody interested, to share emotions with their peers through the spoken word." Philadelphia Mayor Ed Rendell had declared the month of February to be AKA Month in honor of the oldest African-American Greek-letter sorority in Philadelphia.