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The Breakbeat Poets Bring Modern Poetry to MU

WEST LONG BRANCH, N.J. – On September 22nd, the Breakbeat Poets visited campus and performed poetry in Wilson Hall as part of the Visiting Writer Series. The series, organized by associate dean of the School of Humanities and Social Sciences, Michael Thomas, brings in writers and poets from around the country to present and discuss their work in front of students and faculty.
In its entirety, the Breakbeat Poets are a group made up of about 78 poets. Four of the members presented their work at the event. According to the description on Monmouth University’s event page, “the Breakbeat poets are the scribes recording and remixing a fuller spectrum of experience for what it means to be alive in this moment.” A large part of the group’s collective and individual work is influenced by hip-hop, and is thus poetry targeted at a modern day audience of hip-hop listeners.

Image courtesy of Lambda Literary

The Breakbeat Poets created a welcoming and engaging environment fueled by their conversational work that even students who might not have much experience with poetry could participate in. After Nate Marshall, Angel Nafis, Kevin Coval, and Morgan Parker had read their pieces, the event was opened for questions from students
and faculty. Attendees could also purchase The Breakbeat Poets: New American
Poetry in the Age of Hip-Hop, edited by Kevin Coval, Quraysh Ali Lansana, and Nate Marshall and Wild Hundreds, by Nate Marshall, after the event. Most of the poetry performed had been selected from these anthologies.
Genesis Gonzalez, a student present at the event, said the performances were an eye-opening experience. “I felt that both individually and as a group, the performers did an excellent job,” Gonzalez said. “It was refreshing to see how they each brought their own personality into their writing as well as their performances.”
Image courtesy of the Huntington News
Image courtesy of the Huntington News

Additionally, the poets did well at relating to a young audience made up primarily of university students. Palindrome, written by Nate Marshall, was an ode to a familiar habit in the age of technology: checking an ex’s Facebook. In the poem, Marshall reflects on the events of his relationship as he watches them unfurl backwards— from knowing his girlfriend to finally “unknowing” her in the earliest of her pictures. An excerpt from the poem reads, “she unresembles her favorite pop singer Pink. she uncuts her hair, it pulls into her scalp from clumps on the floor. Her new boyfriend forgets the weight of her. She leaves her new boyfriend.”
Not all poems, however, had as lighthearted or funny of themes. A handful of the poems reflected on the high racial tensions and crime rates in Chicago today. In his poem Out South, Marshall writes, “Ragtime crime don’t stop, only waves—hello. Crime waves break no surface on the news—goodbye. Every kid that’s killed is one less free lunch, a fiscal coup.”
The imagery and the detail of each poem created an environment of inclusion and interest within the auditorium. Students were nodding their heads, snapping their fingers, or speaking affirmations during parts of the pieces they identified with. The Breakbeat Poets event opened the door for students to engage with poetry and explore the vast world of the written word which exists beyond the textbook.