Donnie Welch took the stage and spoke methodically into the microphone. His words told of love: Unrequited love, love for others, and, occasionally, science.
At Emerson Shakespeare Society’s Feb. 10 event “Speak Low If You Speak Love,” poems came to life as visual artist Zoe Fisk illustrated what he saw in Welch’s work.
The poem “Storytelling” originated as a high school love poem, and explores his inner feelings about an old crush.
“Hey you, love me if you want to, hate me if you have to,” recited Welch, a sophomore writing, literature, and publishing major.
Welch spat his poems as Fisk, a junior at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design, squatted on stage left, drawing images inspired by Welch’s words on three taped-together pieces of printing paper. As Welch uttered “Keep a song constantly playing in your mind,” Fisk’s Sharpie markers squiggled a cornucopia of colors within a caricature’s head.
By the end of the performance, the piece was a hodgepodge of different characters and objects from the poems — it even included a picture of Welch with his beanbag hat and north face sweatshirt.
“Poetry is based in imagery ... I just physically represent [Donnie’s poems],” said Fisk.
The Emerson Shakespeare Society presented the show, a preview of Welch and Fisk’s upcoming Tall Tales Tour, which will take them from Boston to New Orleans.
“We wanted to help out Donnie and give him an opportunity to preview his tour,” said Alex Ates, a junior and both President and Artistic Director for Shakespeare Society.
Welch is no stranger to the road — he performed this past summer along the east coast in coffee houses and bookstores on the Splendid Little Tour with his singer/songwriter friend Jack Rabbitt.
In a departure from the night’s theme of love, Bobby Crawford, a sophomore studying creative writing, took the stage for a duo performance with Welch. The two relayed a memorized mid-term project for a science class about genetics, in which they fought over who has the better genes.
“Male pattern baldness,” slammed Welch.
“Recessive,” said Crawford, “head full of long curly hair.”
“Dominant,” said Welch, “intelligence” — followed by an awkward, exchanged glance that set the audience into a burst of laughter at this upbeat break, which followed more serious poems.
Both Welch and Crawford take part in the Emerson Poetry Project and qualified to go to CUPSI (College Union Poetry Slam Invitation) where they will be traveling to La Verne University in California this upcoming April.
“It’s fun to compete against each other,” said Crawford. “Donnie is a good influence.”
Even though Welch has come a long way with slam poetry from when he first started in his junior year of high school, he still believes he has a lot to learn. He hopes to continue doing slam poetry as a profession after he graduates college.
“I think poetry has a lot more potential than people give credit about it,” said Welch. “It’s not just 8th grade literature; it has a lot of power and has the capacity to do a lot more. People will catch up on that … I guess I will try to make it happen.”