MU’s Poetry in the Park brings student poets to the spotlight

The upcoming event serves as a stage for MU’s modern-day Shakespeares as well as serving free Chick-fil-A.

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Some of MU’s creative talent will be hitting the stage at Bengal Lair in Memorial Union on Oct. 11 from 7-9 p.m. for the annual Poetry in the Park event. Programmed by the joint efforts of the Black Programming Committee and student organization Indie Poets, the event gives members of Indie Poets a chance to show their skills in a public setting.

Indie Poets is, as described by Vice President Marcelese Cooper, a collection of writers, poets, performers and anyone that does anything with the written word. The group meets every Thursday, working with writing prompts and showcasing other poets. Despite the group’s foundation as a platform for African-American voices, Cooper puts a lot of focus into maintaining an inclusive environment. He understands the importance of “being around people who encourage you to stand up and be able to vocalize your viewpoint and what matters to you.”

“When we just started, there was a lot of focus on black artists and black voices, but we open up to any and all creators and creatives,” Cooper said. “It's just this tight-knit environment where we want to push people to become better writers but also expose them to other writers on campus and new ideas.”

Cooper stresses that regardless of previous writing aptitude, Indie Poets is a space for all skill levels. He understands that there are people on campus interested in poetry or writing who may get nervous and would rather attend the events.

“We want to see them on stage, or at least present and contributing,” Cooper said. “I know when I came here I had written one or two poems before my freshman year, and I just came because my RA recommended that I go as something to try. Now I think I've performed maybe over 30 times. My writing improved tenfold, and I just feel more comfortable [with] public speaking. And that's not even from performing outside of our meetings.”

Erielle Jones, Indie Poets president, facilitates the writing workshops and performance opportunities for the group, which are requested by departments and organizations across campus. For Poetry in the Park, Jones’ focus is on the confidence of the performers.

“For the weeks leading up to it, we get students who may not have performed before, like freshmen, prepared by giving them writing prompts and building up their confidence, [so] they can go out there and steal the show,” Jones explains.

Jones, who has attended Poetry in the Park for the past three years, finds the general atmosphere of the event to be one of inspiration.

“Towards the end of the show, the sun starts setting and, with the lights, you can see everything,” Jones said. “So it's a good vibe, and people in the audience are always so supportive and encouraging.”

While Indie Poets provides the creative minds behind the event, the Campus Activities Programming Board handles the business and organization of it. Jessica Ferguson, senior chair of the Black Programming Committee, is at the helm of Poetry in the Park. The BPC provides black students on campus with activities and involvement in a place where they can feel comfortable and have a good time. Ferguson handles the budget, hosts meetings with the committee and executes all the events.

“We put on a lot of free events, not just for black students, but [they are] our main focus,” Ferguson said. “I get to do all the paperwork, the planning and some not-so-fun stuff, but it's nice when the event’s actually over and really came together.”

A huge focus for Ferguson as senior chair is providing free food at events. She is in charge of all the food planning and selects what vendors and restaurants students eat from at the various programs. At Poetry in the Park, the food of choice is provided by Chick-fil-A.

“Free food is really the biggest thing to get people to most events,” Ferguson said with a laugh. “I like to mix it up. We do a lot of pizza, so Chick-fil-A is a good difference. Who doesn’t like Chick-fil-A?”

Ferguson’s focus on bringing the event to life is rooted in its history and how it affects MU’s population. Alumni who graduated two or three years ago still tweet about the event, speaking from experience working on the show.

“It's like a tradition pretty much like since I've been in Missouri,” Ferguson said. “In the BPC, we're super big on tradition. I try to see most of those yearly programs running, just because we know they’re successful and people look forward to them.”

For any MU students hesitant about attending Poetry in the Park, Ferguson would like to encourage them to come out for the purpose of supporting their friends and classmates, as well as possibly learning a new thing about a current friend of theirs.

“You might have a friend that you don't even know did poetry,” Ferguson said. “Last year I had to miss it, and I was so sad, but I got several videos of my roommate. I did not know she could do poetry! I think it's just super surprising when you see people who are able to really display their talent. You just never know that they can get up and do that.”

Students are welcome to come and hear the work of MU’s poets live while snacking on complimentary Chick-fil-A. For more details, see stufftodo.missouri.edu.

Edited by Alexandra Sharp | asharp@themaneater.com

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