Mad Mouth Poetry
By Ruth Christopher
Spring & Summer quarters at UC Davis this year were the most difficult academic experiences I have had in my life, and I have failed out of college before (eat your heart out The King’s College NYC: I’m at Davis on the Dean’s List!). As always for me, the way I dealt with these difficulties was by getting creative—I am both a poet and a dancer and hard times are just another old friend. So, this summer I formed an alliance of multi-cultural poets called Mad Mouth Poetry. There are 6 of us: Cyrus Sepahbodi, Arthur Kayzakian, Maya Pescatore, Damieka Thomas, Ideas Aubrey, and (me) Ruth Christopher. Half of our team is in the Sacramento/Davis area, half are in L.A. Together we pooled our resources and are building a digital platform for community, poetry, and activism. We have a professional zoom account, our own website hosting, Slack, Hubspot, and multiple social media channels which come out of our own personal budget. Our goal is to be an omni-channel media platform as well as a community organization. We are also seeking independent financial sponsorship.
The way I see it, our work is two-fold: we are poets who love the written word and want to create space for ourselves and our fellow artists. And, in the age of covid and no discernible positive leadership at seemingly any level of government, ￼we need to figure out how to do community safely ourselves. The need has never been greater. How do we practice a communal art form in the age of social distancing? How do we create space for anyone who needs to feel connected, artist or otherwise? Mental Health resources, including those at our own school, are inadequate for the need that exists within our communities. Education resources are also now struggling to adapt to the digital age. Neither are receiving adequate funding and both issues can be spoken to and served by our art form. Our response so far has been to host a weekly curated poetry reading series on zoom which we also live stream to Facebook and upload to Youtube. We are also working with a new zine published by UC Davis grads called Third Iris who are producing content around Mental Health. But we’re planning so much more! We are also creating a podcast called Write from the Wound and a blog called The Petty Linguist which we will host on our website and use to interview poets & authors and write about our experiences as marginalized poets. We also want to work with Open Ceilings and Revival, two student publications on campus at UCD. Our dream is to someday also produce a printed publication called Deadbeat and start a literary arts live stream tutoring service for kids as well as a poetry reading for kids and families.
Our first poetry series that we are producing is called Black Poets Matter which is going into its 7th week. It’s every Saturday 8-9:30pm on Zoom and it’s free although we do ask our audience to tip and/or complement our featured readers as they are able to. We rotate hosts so that our poets can feel most comfortable and represented as each of us on the team is from a different ethnic/regional background. Our goal is to amplify literary voices that we feel to be most marginalized i.e., female, POC, LGBTQIA+, etc. We feel that this is our responsibility to our community and also something we are uniquely capable of doing as poets who have experienced marginalization based on those categories ourselves.
I want to give credit where credit is due. Black Poets Matter was directly inspired/influenced by one of my personal heroes Patrice Cullors. She is one of the founders of the Black Lives Matter movement, and I would argue, L.A.’s most important artist at this time. When George Floyd was publicly lynched and the planet erupted in protest, I knew that it wasn’t enough to just be inspired by Patrice Cullors, that I needed to do more. But since it’s also a pandemic, it needed to be done safely. My friend Vic from school is always telling me “protest is short term activism; education is long term activism.” I was not able to attend many of the protests and as I write this, I am glad. My fiancé Cyrus and I are positive for coronavirus. It’s serious and it’s scary but I’m also so grateful to my team who have been supportive of us doing these past few weeks of illness. They have checked in with us every day and even dropped off Tylenol and water when we couldn’t go to the store. I’m so grateful for them. These are the connections we need to be fostering as human beings at this time. Our inherent connection to each other as people has never been more obvious or more put under strain than it is at this moment. These are the sorts of community relationships we aim to foster at Mad Mouth Poetry.
I invite you to be a part of this crazy idea. We are sponsored by the Jan and Maria Manetti Shrem Museum of Art. Let’s fight Covid and systemic racism/sexism/capitalism with poetry, community, and mutual respect/connection. We welcome people of all literacy levels, poets or not poets, artists or not artists to be a part of our reading and our platform. You can find us on Facebook/Youtube (MadMouth Poetry), Instagram (@madmouth_poetry), or online at madmouthpoetry.com. Our next planned reading series are The Woman Thing (focusing on women’s empowerment) and Gender Queer (highlighting those in our community who are non-heteronormative!). If anyone is interested in reading, they can email us their photo & bio to firstname.lastname@example.org for consideration.