VCS, often a music-exclusive space, hosted slam poet Ashlee Haze on November 30. Haze, a Chicago transplant currently living in Atlanta, has received several slam poetry honors since formally entering the scene as the Grand Prize Winner of V-103’s 2006 “Got Word” Youth Poetry Slam. She came to Bates as a stop along her 100+ city college tour of the U.S.
Haze opened her performance comfortably, introducing herself as a slam poet who discusses her experiences as a black, plus-size woman in today’s world. Wearing all black with electric pink hair, Haze’s strong personality was evident after spending her first seconds on the stage. She quickly jumped into introducing her first explanatory vignette and its associated poem.
This first vignette and poem shared her reaction to the release of the film The Help. Several prominent film critics decried the film’s depiction of black women in the 1960s, however, Haze saw accurate portrayals of her aunt and grandmother in the maids and housekeepers presented in the film. “I find this film to be mildly nostalgic,” said Haze, disagreeing with reviewers’ opinions on the “bad image” of the black maid. The poem itself addressed Haze’s opinion and questioned why critics thought The Help presented a “bad image” if it was an accurate image.
Her next set of vignettes revolved around the theme “Hexes on my Exes” and included the poem “Ode to F*ckboi.” Haze found herself faced with the National Poetry Month prompt to write an ode, so she wrote the satirical “Ode to F*ckboi.” Before presenting the poem, Haze made sure all audience members were familiar with the term “f*ckboi” and gave us a few examples of such people. The poem itself was a critique of all aspects of a f*ckboi existence, such as using the utilities, internet, and resources of others without being held accountable. A hilarious ode, Haze appealed to the audience members’ experiences dealing with such lecherous existences as a person who would not be held nor hold themselves accountable for their actions.
Haze presented herself as a confident and happy woman, however, her poem “Faceless” addressed the path she took to achieve the self-acceptance she now has. In this poem, she describes her response to the microaggression “you have such a pretty face.” She argued that “when he complimented my face that isn’t what he meant;” the compliment highlighted how the rest of her physical appearance was not worthy of such praise.
In between vignettes, Haze built up a comedic rapport with the audience. As she transitioned to new poems, Haze talked to us about pop culture, about her childhood, and about the next poem. She asked us “either or” questions, where she would say two things and the audience would shout out their preference. For example, she asked “Skittles or M&Ms?” and the audience responded with their choice. As she jumped into her haikus, she explained that she would chant “5-7-5” then we chanted “5-7-5,” then she would jump into her haiku. Because her haikus are so explicit, Haze didn’t need a long introductory vignette or quick anecdote; this call and response chant worked to prepare me for the 17 syllable poems to follow.
Through her powerful poetry and funny stories, I related to Haze; she articulated her version of the human condition well, and it resonated with me. Though many of her stories were not about my particular experience (I am a white medium-build female) I still felt included in what she had to share. I hope VCS continues to explore other genres outside of the indie and folk artists that often populate the Mays Center, because Ashlee Haze provided Bates students with an opportunity to enjoy a genre and hear a voice not often shared on campus.