Open Mic Night is a time for people to speak their minds and speak from their hearts.
The event, which will be held Thursday in Renée and David Kaplan Hall, is hosted by UCLA’s creative writing program and the English department’s quarterly Westwind Journal, allowing students of all years and majors to perform original poetry and songs under five minutes. Amara Trabosh, a fourth-year English student and the managing editor of Westwind, said she hopes the event will serve as a unifying force among UCLA students, providing them a chance to express their emotions, regardless of their academic background.
“Because we are part of the English department, we typically only end up with a very small group of people,” Trabosh said. “We really wanted to get Westwind out more to the UCLA community, especially for all of the creative people.”
Benjamin Balazs, a third-year English student, will be reading a few of his short poems during the event. His poems are free verse, he said, inspired by the generation of beat poets from the 1950s post-World War II era. Balazs will dedicate his five-minute performance to criticizing themes such as consumerism, capitalism and the authoritarian “Big Brother.” Beat poets tended to treat the government as some sort of mechanized demon, he said. Similarly, in his recent work, Balazs references the “machine” as something that seeks to eradicate nature and direct society toward further industrialization.
Balazs criticizes spaces like food courts, public pools and metropolitan hubs – all public microcosms of the “machine” effect. At food courts, for instance, humans are forced into lines, not dissimilar to the way animals are at slaughterhouses, he said: They are ushered along an institutionalized procession that rewards them with food at the end. Their humanity also is reduced because of the minimal communication that occurs between people as they place their orders with cashiers. Balazs said he looks forward to the opportunity of getting feedback on his poetic expression at the event.
“I think open mic nights are generally a nice opportunity for any sort of creative artist or performer or writer to have an environment in which they are encouraged to express stuff they are working on,” Balazs said. “It’s really valuable because you can get feedback from an audience. It’s hard to come by without having to audition or have a space or a venue that’s otherwise populated and competitive.”
Justine Ramos, a third-year English and human biology and society student, will also be performing at Open Mic Night, and she thinks the event will help her meet others in the UCLA community who share her passion for poetry. Ramos is deciding between two poems to read but said she is leaning toward one themed around anorexia nervosa and body dysmorphic disorder. She said she was inspired to write poetry about eating disorders because even though they are very common, they are often met with judgment; she has witnessed her own friends and family members struggle with eating disorders. She said her little brother had a negative body image because of comments from friends and family members.
“(I want to) show people they can express themselves with their words in a healthy way and channel their emotions in a healthy way,” Ramos said.
In October, Ramos also started her own campus poetry club called SLAM uniVERSE, which meets weekly and fosters an environment that promotes mental health awareness and provides resources for students. She hopes to use Open Mic Night as a means of connecting the students in her club with participants in Westwind’s event. Similarly, Trabosh said she hopes students will be able to form their own communities and connections through Open Mic Night, feel more comfortable with poetry and find a healthy, safe environment to share their work.
“We are really just hoping that everyone who comes has a good time and hears more about Westwind and that we can meet more people from UCLA who are interested in creative pursuits,” Trabosh said.