Asia Key, The Black Bear – Untamed Tongues Secretary Olivia Obi cues up an R&B instrumentals playlist on Spotify as members descend the steps into Karls Hall. Lights shine down from directly above, highlighting the shapes and colors of their varying kinks and coils as they bob their heads in time with the bass of the music.
A poet paces the perimeter of the room, pausing under the spotlights as he practices the piece he will perform today in front of twenty others. Lips read in silence as they all read from notebooks their responses to the prompt from last week, a poem about an old flame.
Aadasia Stevens is a senior communications major and serves as president of Untamed Tongues in it’s third year as an organization at Missouri State.
Having just joined in fall 2016, it’s not a role she expected to fill. She never took her writing seriously until she was encouraged to share in the familial atmosphere of UT. As her comfortability grew, she became more confident in herself.
And as she grew into her womanhood, so did her passion for poetry.
“Honestly, what changed for me was becoming more mature,” Stevens said. “I’m starting to learn a lot about myself, and it’s comforting that I can express myself through poetry and people understand.”
Stevens threw an unexpected twist on the prompt. Instead of simply reading it aloud, she had volunteers perform their piece atop the instrumental to Kendrick Lamar’s “Sing About Me, I’m Dying of Thirst.”
In the song, Lamar takes on the personas of two people from his neighborhood in Compton, California, who are coping with the ills of poverty in different ways. In the final verse, he speaks as himself. According to contributors on Rap Genius, “storytelling brings an eternity to stories that counteracts the ephemeral nature of life.”
Many are nervous to try their luck at riding the beat. A poet who goes by the name of Freshelle stumbles over her words at first, but all heads swivel in her direction as she spits an impactful line right when the beat drops.
Freshman business marketing and promotions major James Myers performs his poem from memory, and the way his voice floats over the music mesmerizes the crowd. It’s no surprise that he’s had aspirations of being a rapper since the sixth grade.
Snaps in place of applause resound as the members convey their surprise and satisfaction with these performances, love is like warmth in this room.
Myers said he can relate to his fellow UT members because they can be open and honest with each other.
“It’s like when people like the same kind of music as you and you just feel like you know them, it’s like that,” Myers said.
“It’s easy to be open about (deep topics), like how (Verniquia) was talking about her mom being addicted to drugs when she was eight, we didn’t even trip off that. It’s just how we get down.”
A junior and art education major, Obi has been a member of UT all three years of her collegiate career. She said there is a power in opening up that creates unity.
“(By sharing our work we are) creating a family,” Obi said. “I know there’s not a lot of black artists, there’s not a black hub for artists in Springfield. And we aren’t all the way there, but that’s something we hope to be.”
As the founder of Untamed Tongues, senior communications major Taylor Vinson began with that goal.
“When I started this organization, it was never just about having an organization,” Vinson said. “It was always about expanding, growth and thinking about the bigger picture.”
That bigger picture was having a space, in education and community, where spoken word poetry could be considered an important form of representation.
“How can we create a culture and an environment that values spoken word as a collection of black and minority culture,” Vinson said. “How can we incorporate that and make it not only a campus organization, but a community organization and something that’s valued in the classroom as well?”
Her excitement about the introduction to poetry course starting in spring 2018, thats focus is spoken word, found poetry, erasures and other trends, stems from these questions she posed and hoped to answer with the creation of Untamed Tongues.
She said she can’t say how much of an impact she had on Dr. W.D. Blackmon, the head of the english department, in creating this class.
But she has to think that the presentation she gave him two years ago about incorporating those same subjects into the curriculum had some influence.