‘Come out and say it’: Speakfree riffs on hookup culture

Speakfree member Daquan Mickens '12 performed his poem, 'Undisputed,' in Goodrich on Friday.
Speakfree member Daquan Mickens ’12 performed his poem, ’Undisputed,’ in Goodrich on Friday.

Playing guitar. Offering amnesty. Licking, dreaming, boxing. These are just a few characterizations of hookups from Hook Up With Speakfree, in Goodrich on Friday, during which the College’s spoken word group, Speakfree, shared insights on the campus’s hookup culture. While some poets sought inspiration outside of hookups, from HIV to racial tensions between Koreans and blacks, the diverse topic choices and blunt word choice all-around made the audience members squirm in their seats, smiling uncomfortably to nearby friends.

The audience’s discomfort is an example of feelings most Speakfree members share about hookup culture at the College. “It’s as if we’re too afraid to come out and say it,” said Ashley Ray-Harris ’13 in a piece in which she proclaimed that all her partners, no matter the kind of relationship, should be proud to be intimate with her. Colin Killick ’12 narrated an experience in which his inability to approach a girl he liked caused a listener to say, “Just get her drunk.” Killick, noting that he has a younger sister, was outraged. “Who are you? Are you actually proud of yourself?” There were men awestruck by significant women (“What are the chances I found the one musician who could play my notes?”) and women proudly seeking out men (“I want every inch of you”). Oriana McGee ’12 criticized stereotyping about who is hookup worthy, reasoning that “even nerds have to get loose sometimes.”

Hook Up With Speakfree revealed that performance poetry thrives on campus, despite the fact that, for some, Speakfree lies below the radar. The group has existed since fall 2007. Gina Rodriguez ’11 and her friends Courtney Smith ’11, Mo Lotif ’11, Patty Cho ’10 and Hnin Hnin ’10 loved poetry. After recognizing their shared interest, the group began meeting at the house of Arif Smith, assistant director of the Multicultural Center. “His house is the most soulful place on earth,” remembers Rodriguez, noting that the relaxed atmosphere, along with Smith’s encouragements (“Just speak free”) contributed to the group’s most important value to date: providing an open forum.

Speakfree became an official campus organization group in spring 2008 and has since enjoyed a growing membership. This fall the group even took a trip to New York City’s famed Nuyorican Poets Café and the Bowery Poetry Club. A typical group meeting begins with every member putting his or her college ID into a bowl, a symbolic gesture for lifting restrictions. Afterwards, members can choose to share work, listen, give feedback or do all three. “[Speakfree] is definitely a place where you can be yourself,” says Rodriguez. “People don’t feel judged or awkward.” Brian Thomas ’12 agrees. “For me, Speakfree was a relief from Williamstown. I could just sit, chill and listen to my friends.”

Hook Up With Speakfree has been in the making for the entire semester. The group members first got to know each other and then tossed up the idea of creating a show, whereas many other performance art groups on campus meet with the set goal of preparing for a final event. Though Rodriguez admits that she and Thomas loved using hookups as a marketing strategy, she explains, “At Speakfree we don’t want people to feel limited, like you have to write about hooking up, or you have to produce. If you have a piece, we’ll find a way for you to perform it.” At the same time, the group always puts comfort first. “It’s more than the performance you see,” Thomas said. “Speakfree is a relaxed atmosphere. That’s what poetry is. Just hearing how other people view the world is enlightening.”

Speakfree is open to all who are interested. The group hopes that students, regardless of an interest in poetry, will become more open to saying words – whatever form they may take – rather than squirming at them.