In Latin, excelano means "we march forth," a fitting phrase for this family of poets. For its team members, Excelano is a place to let loose, to shout out, to call home. Founded 15 years ago, the Excelano Project is a group devoted to "finding voice" through spoken poetry, "...It’s about holding a speaker up to life’s white noise, to find that every one of us can be heard."
It's nighttime at one of their "practices." A flurry of looks passes around the table as seated members of the group peer at each other in anticipation. "Roses and thorns," they call it. The rose of your day— your best highlight to offer— and the thorn which complements it, that pain in your ass. A girl in braids goes first, her thorn the grueling grind of Chemistry class. The team member seated beside her goes next, and in a circle they go, each sharing their joys and spilling their sorrows. Oreos and and Cheetos puffs are brought out. A box of candy corn, as a nod to Halloween, is opened. Bags are torn open, cookies peeled apart and eaten half by half, and smiles are passed throughout.
One talks about his math quiz tomorrow that he completely forgot about until this evening; his rose is the little pink lollipop he's taken as consolation. "Fifth one of the day," he smiles. Knowing chuckles ring around. Another talks about finally receiving the laptop he sent out to fix, but stresses about the cash he'll have to hand over upon retrieval. One says her thorn is churning out poetry in time for the show. "It's a process," she notes. "Like pooping— sometimes it comes out all smooth, others times you're constipated. It just doesn't come out," she concludes with a shrug. We all laugh at that.
"Heck week," they call it. The days before the upcoming Fall 2018 show this weekend, Entropy, will be a packed schedule of meetings and edits. The directors step in, giving the rest of the team a rundown on last minute pieces that are due. A two—person demonstration of a short spoken poem is performed on the spot, giving the team inspiration for what they are to turn in later during the week. Instructions are given, technicalities are ironed out, and confusions are resolved.
Workshopping of personal pieces comes next. A sophomore seated at the table volunteers to read out his poetry first. His deep voice reverberates like a bell in the silence of the room, holding us spellbound with the magic of rhythmic wording and verbal intonation. Snaps click across the room when his performance ends. Team members pitch in suggestions, mentioning the lines they absolutely loved and the ones to improve on. No drab carpeting or dim lighting in the room could hide the passion this team has for spoken poetry.
For the members of the Excelano Project, spoken poetry is all about a representation of self. "The basis of all poetry is communication and I think that people are a lot more open to ideas... when its person–to–person talking," Imani Davis (C '20), director of this year's production, notes. "When you can see the voice the speaker is connected to, the identity the speaker is connected to...I think spoken poetry demands your attention in a way that the written word can, but I don't think people give it the ability to in their own lives." Nathaniel Nyema (E '20), also a director of Entropy, continues, saying "Spoken poetry forces you to also focus on the person who is delivering this poem.... There's a personal aspect to spoken poetry that comes across in the fact that it is being performed."
In regards to how personal identity interacts with the theme of entropy, Imani starts, "I think it is a specific type of vulnerability that is kind of an organized chaos, right. Because you're choosing a realm and a room and an audience, in front of which to kind of lay out very vulnerable parts of yourself sometimes...it's like framing a room in which, like, you go into to paint all your feelings." Furthermore, as Nathaniel adds, "It's important to take into account that as poets, we very much pick and choose the things we are willing to be vulnerable about onstage...but still in that moment when we do perform, its this kind of...letting everything out."
For Nathaniel, Entropy is a discussion of how chaos translates from a scientific term into the workings of daily life. This chaos it seems, stems from the balancing act of mediating among conflicting identities. "That topic allows us to come to terms with the fact that everything is not okay, but we're going to...work through all the complexities of what it means to be a person of a certain identity, of a certain race, of a certain gender, of a certain sexuality...", Imani elaborates. Think of Entropy as a toast, a raising of cups to lips so that one might spew written word and outpour emotion. Think of it as a salute to the mess of our lives, each so jagged, twisted, yet intertwined—woven together when a group inquires into each other's ups and down, to share their sorrows and sing their joys— the way Excelano might during "check—ins" at Kelly Writer's House on a calm Wednesday night.
Tickets currently on sale for the Excelano Project's Fall 2018 show, Entropy.