Last semester, on Tuesday, November 6, acclaimed poet (and labor organizer by trade) Rodrigo Toscano, along with five Miami Creative Writing MFA students, performed for a full house in the Bachelor Hall reading room. (Pictures here.) Toscano has lived a double life, splitting his time between working in the labor movement and weaving his poetry. A writer who has authored multiple books of poetry, recordings, and essays, he most recently released a collection based off a single sentence, one that also gave him the title for the book: Explosion Rocks Springfield. With Miami graduate students, he performed a string of poem-skits that combined to create an astute reflection on the modern human experience.
Standing side-by-side with Katarina Morris, Savannah Trent, and Kinsey Cantrell, all holding stacks of stapled papers, the poets began speaking one by one in rapid succession. Between chorus-like repetitions of “Scrolling! Pointing! Clicking! Selecting!” the poets bombarded the audience with observations, statements, and rhetorical questions. Each new line spoken by Toscano and company seemed borrowed from something we might hear any day or every day—the lines were rooted in contemporary experience we share.
The majority of the reading was taken up in this manner; however, as the performers shed each packet, the tone of the poem shifted. The first shift came in the form of simulating a discourse between the four writers. At first, this section felt like a dark satirical comedy piece, but it soon began to seem more like a manifesto of the working class. Throughout the larger piece, Toscano attempted to raise serious questions in the minds of the audience while keeping things humorous. Battered by comments about the financial markets and society rich in dark satire mixed with material from the exploits of Esmerelda, the audience had no choice but to laugh. Of the performers, along with Toscano, Katarina Morris stood out for her good use of the space of the room. Her deliberate movements mixed with her body language delivered some of the last and most powerful lines to bring the audience to applause.
For another piece, Toscano was joined by MFA students Paul Vogel and Kyle Flemings. The poem-skit comprised a discussion between Paul, who stood in as a representation of toxic corporate management, with Toscano taking the role of mediator between the public and the wants of corporate America. The back-and-forth between the two highlighted how disconnected the corporate world can be to the needs and wants of the common people. The ludicrous demands and questions by Vogel—for instance, “Tell them if they get help to get the big blue ball over the flaming wall there will be a prize in it for them…they want to know what the prize is? Tell them ‘life.’ What do they say?”—gained many laughs. However, this did not take away from the poem’s focus on just how disenfranchised most people truly are in comparison to corporate power.
Toscano and company did more than just entertain their audience. Through their craft, they found a light way to raise some much-needed social awareness in our time. During the hour, we were able to see the power the written word can have and the light it can shine on the paradoxes we find ourselves living. Perhaps we, the audience, will take some time away from our “scrolling, pointing, clicking, selecting” to take a closer look at what is going on around us.
John D. Meade
English Department Ambassador