BY TUMA HAJI
Coffee and poetry were featured on a cold Friday evening in a cozy café near campus. Students sat in rows, chatting happily amongst themselves as they waited in long lines for a warm, soothing drink and to listen to the thoughts of a budding contemporary poet.
Walking into Mars Café this past Friday at half-past six, people were met with a group of young attendees listening attentively to a woman with purple hair and a flowery dress on stage.
Ashlee Haze, a poet and spoken word artist from Atlanta, Georgia, performed her work for Drake students. The event was organized by the Student Activities Board (SAB). She was visiting Des Moines as part of her tour for her first book, “Land of the Living.”
Haze is considered one of the most accomplished poets in the art of slam poetry and holds various titles. She’s been a part of the Executive Council of Poetry Slam, Inc. ever since she made her debut in 2006 after winning V-103’s Youth Poetry Slam Grand Prize.
Haze performed pieces of poetry that ranged from issues concerning race and black feminist identity to lighter matters like relationships.
Despite the fact that all of the poems she performed tackled different topics, they all had one element in common that kept her audience engaged and laughing: humor. She took digs at the president, celebrities and even her past boyfriends. One of the poems she performed was “The Help Poem,” which expressed pride in her African ancestors. Haze conveyed the struggles of afro-textured hair in “Natural Hair” and contempt for sour relationships in the humorously vexing “Hexes for My Exes.” She expressed her passion for the art of slam poetry as a form of release.
“I’ve been writing since I was 10 years old, performing for over 10 years,” Haze said. “I enjoy the release of it, the idea of getting stuff out of your body and mind and onto paper where it can live somewhere else. I just write my story. Sometimes I write about interactions I have with people, or you know, something that’s just been bothering me for a while, taken me a while to get out.”
The relatability of her poems was reflected by the generous amount of finger snapping by the audience, all of its members seeming to enjoy her performance.
Clay Pasqual, a senior Drake student, said he enjoyed the event.
“I thought it was really great. She had a lot of personality in her performance,” Pasqual said. “The one about her quirks was pretty funny, and her Netflix references. I liked some of the digs she took at President Trump in her poems … Overall it was a pretty good night here at Mars Café.”
Some black women in the crowd, such as Bukuru Anastazie, nodded in agreement with the poet.
“As an African woman, I was able to greatly appreciate the unnoticed things that go into our hair, when she read one of her poems regarding natural hair,” she said. “I realized that she has a deep respect for her family members. I relate in a way because everything that I saw my family members do for me is almost the same thing that she mentioned her family members did for her.”
Drake students walked away with the warmth of coffee in their hands and the glow of humor and relatability in their hearts.