The funky walls of Muddy Waters Coffee House were packed tight on Thursday, May 22, as members of Santa Barbara’s vibrant spoken word community gathered for University of California, Santa Barbara MultiCultural Center’s quarterly poetry series, “An Evening of Spoken Word” with Ryan Yamamoto.
The night opened on fire with Bridgette Kyeremateng, a UCSB first-year and eloquent spoken word artist. Unfazed by the blinding lights and the eager audience filled to the back of the room, Kyeremateng performed with passion and authority.
In “Diary of a Mad Black College Woman,” she slammed about what it feels like to be the only black kid in an Anglo-American history class. Kyeremateng did not shy away from speaking the uncomfortable, but rather opened dialogue about the racial stigmas she faces as a person of color. Her stage presence was inspiring and ended on an empowering note, saying, “The blacker the berry the sweeter the juice,” and she brought down the house.
Next, UCSB’s own rising spoken word artist and featured poet of the night, Ryan Yamamoto, performed. His poetic flow was perfectly cadenced, self-deprecatingly funny, and uncensored, as though speaking among dear friends. Yamamoto brought out a crowd of UCSB students who proved good and lively company. To those in the audience whom he had yet to meet, especially first time spoken word attendees, he invited them to find him after the show and share what emotions his performance invoked.
The evening was a celebration of the individual relationships we have to multicultural roots. Ryan embraced complex feelings about race and culture through his poetry. After detailing his heritage in an opening piece spoken to his younger brother—Yamamoto is ¼ German, ¼ Italian, and ½ Japanese—he pierced the issue at heart.
He said, “When did ethnicity ever become genre?” In a brief explanation of the piece, Ryan said he enjoys using his poetry as a tool to address and break down the social stigmas and fear surrounding race.
A native of Oceanside, Calif., in the sprawling suburbs of San Diego County, Ryan shared the experience of being stereotyped for his race. Amid his smooth flow of childhood images, he slammed about well-off parents who looked down on the way he and his friends spoke. He owned it when he spoke about scoring higher on standardized tests than their kids. Ryan Yamamoto is resilient. He doesn’t give in to the stereotypes society piles upon him. He referenced the tattoos on his arms as defining his identity-in-flux as a poet and hapa-american.
Ryan had the audience in awe as he spoke about his passion for living and writing all of the life out of him. Many of Ryan’s poems are about time and its fleeting nature. He said, “Maybe we should all press pause,” and try to live more passionately and fervently, like our lives depend on the present moment.
Yamamoto spoke strongly of highly esteemed filmmaker, visual artist, and spoken word performer Kip Fulbeck, who teaches the workshop class Art 137 Spoken Word. A class that helped him come into his own and discover a cool new and meaningful avenue of expression through spoken word poetry that is his driving passion in life.
Yamamoto added that any UCSB senior who missed the chance to take it should “fail and come back in the fall so you can take it.”