The Sports Zone was decidedly quiet the night the Students Event Board and the Retriever Poets hosted the first open mic poetry night of the semester. It was an intimate setting, and each poem was treated with a focused, muted respect. At any one moment, the crowd might be laughing, snapping, nodding along or simply listening and appreciating. It was a room full of people that loved their work, and for many University of Maryland, Baltimore County students, such a sight is none too uncommon.
The Retriever Poets’ open mic night on Feb. 4 was just one such example of the artistic expression happening on campus. Many of the poems read that night dealt with extreme themes; more than a few uncomfortable, if not relatable, topics were addressed. Danielle Vitullo, a senior computer engineering major, gave a passionate performance about self-destructive overworking that is seen with so many college students, and Morgan Mullings, a UMBC alum, delivered a scathing critique on the commodification and devaluation of womanhood.
Although these and many other poems of the night touched on painful matters, the event served ultimately as an outlet, rather than a reminder, of the pains and stressors of life. When asked about the appeal of poetry, senior Tiwalade Topia, vice president of Retriever Poets and biology major, made a great case for how art can provide an outlet for students.
“Our position as students is like a full-time job, and poetry allows us to put that work to the side. It’s a good outlet for emotion, sort of like yelling, or running. A lot of our members are STEM students, which always wows me,” Topia said. “It’s amazing to see that so many people have a creative side, and a need to express and share it regularly.”
The way Topia described it, it is easy to understand why the arts provide so much for the UMBC student body. There are endless examples of UMBC students taking the initiative to pursue their own interests. From the a capella group Mama’s Boys to the work of the Retriever Poets, these groups and many others highlight the desire for creative fulfillment within the student body and demonstrate exactly why students seek out creative efforts in the first place. Events like the open mic night help students to find their voices.
“The ability to express yourself is a gift,” Topia later stated. “It breaks this cage around you. It’s a good way to work through a lot of what’s happening to you, even if you don’t get to an answer. It’s like throwing a rope out there and knowing someone is going to catch it. You can broadcast to the void, and you’ll always get snaps and claps back to you.” This sentiment seemed to echo throughout all of the open mic night. Every performance was given the same respect, and every voice was heard.
At the conclusion of the night, after all of the poets had performed their pieces, one more round of applause was given for everyone involved. It was a heartfelt reminder that for every creative endeavor on campus, there is a group of students at the bottom of it, struggling to ensure that no voices are lost in the scuffle.