Two-time Women of the World Poetry Slam Finalist Ashlee Haze came to Keene State College on Saturday, April 14.
KSC Coordinator of Student Activities and Organizations Britany Gallagher manages the college’s Late Night After Hours series.
Gallagher said After Hours used to bring in comedians every second Saturday before this year, when she decided to “change it up and alternate between comics and slam poets.”
Gallagher said that After Hours has been able to show the campus a more multicultural perspective. “In September, we had Carlos Andrés Gómez [who is Latino] come and Ashlee [Haze] who is black,” Gallagher said.
She added, “I feel like, as an institution, we don’t do that much stuff enough… sharing people’s personal experiences – that’s what it’s all about.”
Haze said, “I write a lot about my life and my experiences. Pretty much everything [the students] heard was like a real life story, or it’s inspired by pop culture in some way.”
Haze said most of her work is about her life as a “woman of color in a plus-sized body” and her views on the world through her experiences, including some “comedic poetry” about “crazy ex-boyfriends.”
Gallagher, a fan of poetry, said she first saw Haze at the Social Activities Council’s National Association for Campus Activities conference (NACA), “Ashlee was one of the artists [I] got to see at NACA… We tend to work with the same agencies over and over again, and Ashlee is coming from [the College Agency which] we work with a lot. ”
Haze said she began working with the agency about 18 months ago, which is when she quit her job to become a full-time poet. “It was crazy,” she said. “…I let my [Missy Elliot] video go around and I was just like, ‘Let me just see if anyone would want to represent me,’ and I applied and they were like, ‘Yeah, let’s do it.’”
Haze said her current manager called her while she was at work and asked her to join the agency.
While on tour, Haze has visited dozens of colleges across the nation. This was her first time in New Hampshire and her last set of the season.
Gallagher said she has always received good feedback from students about poets brought onto campus.
KSC senior and English and secondary education dual major Talia Follansbee said she has seen Haze perform online before and recognized her name immediately.
She said, “I’d describe tonight’s performance as honest and intimate. I think sometimes it can be a bit better for poetry shows to have that smaller audience to get that connection… You can be more honest and open.”
“There is [a negative] stereotype in our culture [about poetry], but I think what’s so cool is, with slam poetry in particular, it’s so raw and emotional and everybody has those experiences,” Gallagher said, “We all have those experiences, so I think it’s nice to have that and kind of engage with students and show that raw, emotional side… It’s not necessarily all negative and it’s not all necessarily bad and it might help you process something you might be going through.”
Haze said poetry has always come easily to her. She added that poetry is a good way of getting her thoughts out on paper, and while she wishes she could sing or perform in other styles, poetry “works” for her.
Follansbee said Haze’s bravery in performing on stage was inspiring to see. She added, “It’s nice to have that inspiration and energy.”
To aspiring poets, Haze said the best thing people can do is listen to poetry, whether on Button Poetry’s YouTube channel, or by going to national conferences such as College Union Poetry Slam Invitational (CUPSI). She added that it is important to listen, read and get to know yourself to find your voice.
“I hope people just kind of understand, sometimes we can look at things through different lenses,” Haze said. “Sometimes we have shared experiences but your background might affect how you look at it. So hopefully people are just open to different ways of viewing things.”
Follansbee said she was able to see from other perspectives and hopes others can too. She said she bought Haze’s book because she wants to share the poems with her students to expose them to other perspectives and break stereotypes.
Gallagher said, “The only way you can understand someone else’s life and what they’ve gone through is to hear it from them first-hand.”
Angelique Inchierca can be contacted at email@example.com