RCC’s MUSE holds an open-mic night

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By Jazmyn De Jesus

The smell of old wood and espresso lingers as you enter the performance space in the basement of the downtown Riverside staple, Back to the Grind. The feeling of familiarity and comfort is felt by even first-time performers and audience members. Despite the sounds of the neighboring businesses and upstairs area still operating, everyone in attendance was immersed in each reading that occurred in the underground room.

On the evening of March 30, Riverside City College’s art and literary publication, MUSE, held one of its beloved and intimate open-mic poetry readings. Guest speakers Romaine Washington, James Coats and Bob Marshall as well as a diverse group of artists performed literary pieces for the community.

MUSE was able to collaborate with Inlandia Institute, another Riverside literary publication, to create a special event for the RCC alumni and staff to participate in. Bob Marshall of Inlandia provided typewriters for the room to practice writing lines of poetry on. As time went on, the pages filled, each line of poetry being written by anyone that wanted to participate. Through their network of writers the veteran literary performers were able to display their talents.

Romaine Washington is an established author and voice in the Inland Empire creative writing community. She read pieces from “Sirens in Her Belly,” one of the published works she has received acclaim for.

One poem in particular, a blackout poem titled Resurgence, was read for the first time at the event. A 1967 article regarding the KKK which had themes of domestic terrorist violence through the use of guns with a racial undertone was  blacked out to create this poem. The audience’s response to it was exactly what she had hoped for. After the reading, Washington prompted the audience by asking what year we believed the article was written and in what context.

“You have people saying it was 2019, then 2015, when it was 1967 and that’s very telling,” Washington said. “I might even write a poem about the response to the blackout poem.”

Washington utilized audience participation once again for a poem that she noted as an ode to the close of Women’s History Month. She handed out nine cards with the names and bios of each Black woman she mentions in a piece titled “We Are Powerful and Dangerous.” Each name and bio was read prior to her reading to serve as “(A) roll call for brilliant Black women, and if you don’t know who they are, they’re just names.” 

James Coats was another guest speaker whose poems discussed the topics of blackness in America, healthy expressions of masculinity and mental health, all from his book titled “Midnight and Mad Dreams.” He commonly attends Riverside and I.E. literary events as a former RCC staff member and alumni of Cal State San Bernardino. A piece that stood out during his time onstage was a poem titled “We Only Eat What Is Soft,” which tackled the topic of managing toxic masculinity. All of the poems he read were introspective and personal to his experience, which made others in the room also feel vulnerable.

“Poetry has allowed me to dive into those hard places and little by little I open up more and can tackle those areas,” Coats said, “I can really look at myself and where my thought process needs correcting.”  

Following the guest speakers, open-mic performers shared very personal, humorous and humbling written works. The subject matter varied from pieces about falling in love to cultural appropriation.

RCC instructor, James Ducat, facilitated the event and ensured that every artist who performed was well acknowledged and received by the audience.

“Give a lot of support to those who come up here because it is brave to do this,” Ducat said.

Many of the performers either performed for the first time or after a break. It was a full house which could not have been easy for those who were courageous enough to share their work onstage.

Filled with new faces and old, beginning writers to professors and mentors, creativity flowed and emotions were honored with each artist’s reading thanks to MUSE and the community’s support.

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