An hour into Monday’s open mic in the Walker Building, a new face took the stage. Sporting thin-rimmed glasses, a purple beanie, and a button-down with the sleeves rolled up halfway to display a tattoo of Lake Monona, the newest poet cleared his throat and took a sip from a bottle of seltzer water.
“Hi. My name is Miles Walser, and I’m going to read you some poems.”
On Jan. 28, up-and-coming poet and the special guest at the event, Walser kicked off his two-week tour of New England with a featured appearance in the Emerson Poetry Project’s first open mic poetry night of the semester.
The Emerson Poetry Project (EPP), founded in 2008 with the intent of fostering an atmosphere wherein students can share their poetry and compete in slam competitions, hosted an hour-and-a-half long poetry reading open to all students. Though the first event of the semester was slightly smaller in size than most of EPP’s weekly open mics, the energy in the room was palpable.
Of the crowd, 11 student poets ventured to the microphone to share their writing. Topics ranged from the viscosity of jellyfish to the similarities between being in love and having a hernia. Audible gasps and grunts of approval could be heard in response to some of the more notable lines. The event’s emcee, co-curator Bobby Crawford, engaged the audience in between open mic acts and reminded the gathering — many of whom were newcomers — “We are a small organization. We’re so glad you could all make it.”
Soon after, Crawford introduced the featured poet.
Walser, 22, has only been out of college for seven months, but is already on the move. The University of Minnesota graduate recently moved to Brooklyn and is now embarking on a promotional tour for his first book of poetry, What The Night Demands, due in April. Walser’s poetry centers around his personal experience with modern transgender identity, with titles like “Hierarchy Of Trans*-ness At The High-School Queer Youth Mixer” and “A Letter To My Vagina”. As he read, audience members nodded and sighed audibly during the more affecting lines of the poems.
In between bites of a tomato mozzarella panini from Emerson’s Cafe, Walser explained that he loves spoken word because it doesn’t just exist between the pages of a book.
“Everyone wants to tell a story,” he said. “Poetry is significant in that it is unique to each specific person, but it is universal.”
Walser, a self-proclaimed poet since age six admitted he still gets nervous before he performs. He described himself as awkward and shy, but behind the microphone, he appeared to be fearless.
Kieran Collier, a freshman writing, literature, and publishing major and regular participant at EPP, expressed a similar sentiment.
“Poetry starts with an idea. My rough drafts are usually really bad, and it’s a lot of revising and figuring out what’s working and what’s not,” he said. “And it’s totally rewarding when you’re up there and you hear people reacting and responding to something you’ve slaved over.”
This seems to be what attracts many people to spoken word.
“It’s about thinking together,” Walser affirmed.
Collier said the group’s events complement Emerson’s mission.
“Everyone comes to Emerson not just to find their voice, but to use it,” he stated. “The Emerson Poetry Project is a really great organization because it gives anyone who has a voice a place to speak out, which I think is something people are always looking for.”