If this week’s episode of Verses and Flow were to be described with one word, that would be it. It’s the best word, after a night of poets using the best of their vocabulary to express feelings for loved ones, whether they were painful, celebratory or longing. It’s the best way to describe the performances by Chas Jackson, IN-Q and Safia Elhillo, who, along with the incredible Faith Evans, gave us their absolute best. Unconditionally.
Bay area native Chas Jackson led off the show, breaking hearts while breaking down his complicated relationship with a mother that made a few bad decisions. His poem, “I Will Accept The Charges,” is a child’s worst nightmare come true, as he explains: “There are two things in this world that should never happen. One, a parent should never have to bury their own child. Two, a child should never have to visit their parent behind bars.”
Jackson, the former cast member of the EMMY-winning reality show “Black.White” expounded on a very different reality, stating that “it is unimaginable not knowing the next time you’ll embrace. It is unbearable to communicate behind a glass barrier. It is unsightly to see your mother, hair braided in two French braids, dressed in a tan jumpsuit. ” Yet, his love remains pure. “Mom, if you have forgotten everything I previously said to you,” he makes clear, “always remember this: Though you did what they say you did, you are not who they say you are.”
If that poem broke your heart, the poem that followed was designed to make it dance. Appearing for the second time on the Verses and Flow stage was Los Angeles native and show favorite IN-Q, whose poem “85,” an ode to a love of a lifetime, was perfect in its pitch and performance. It’s about a couple that’s grown old together, and are better together. Blissful together.
"When I first saw her, I was totally in awe," the poem proclaimed. "She was classical, so I was like Yo, Yo, Ma. And that was all it took, a single look and I was shook. I fell for her like some loose shingles from a Spanish roof. And I’ma love her til she loses every last root…"
Those types of memories are literally something foreign to Safia Elhillo. The young poet, from Cairo by way of Washington, DC, remembered a time when all she could do was pray for loved ones that were a continent away. Her poem, “Egypt,” was deep. In fact, according to the Slam NYU champion, “this is not a poem. This is my mother. My brother. I’ve spent my whole life experiencing bloodshed in theory, from a comfortable desk an ocean away without a face to put to the loss… An abstract mass of brown and bone and air that isn’t abstract anymore. I don’t know where my mother is. I don’t know if my brother is alive.”
The Egypt she never had to experience, a country where she would have spent “adolescence in a police state, women beaten in the street for wearing pants in public, and allowing their wild curls to creep out,” is the same place that still causes her concern. It’s that unconditional love and concern for family that fills her heart, even as Brooklyn, Jazz and boys fill her days.
A brilliant piece from a brilliant young artist.
Evans, lending the show her talents in between roles as executive producer of R&B Divas and its sister show R&B Divas: LA, singer (her new album should be ready by spring 2014), and her most important role as mother of three, gave two incredible performances (“Tears of Joy”, “Mesmerized”) to balance out an emotionally draining show.
We’re halfway through Verses and Flow 3.0. What have been some of your favorite performances of the season thus far? Let us know on Twitter by using the hashtag #VersesandFlow. Next week, we’re serving up some LA flair, some Louisiana spice, and a just the right amount of New York flavor. Also, a very welcome blast from the past. Six episodes done. Six more to come. Get. Ready.