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Poetry and prose launch the Paperback Project

Spoken-word group Speak for Yourself hosts inaugural event

Samer Saliba (CAS’08), a student from Lebanon, has a message for peace: “I can’t wait for you anymore.”

“So I stand in the middle of a crowded room, pour gasoline all over my sentences, and in effigy light my words on fire,” he continues. “Only instead of turning orange and red, they burst into sapphire, so blue they inspire the sky to clear, to rid itself of clouds, and persuade birds to stop their flight and to sit on telephone wires. Maybe with that kind of clarity people will realize the situation in Beirut is dire.”

Saliba, the vice president of the spoken-word performance group Speak for Yourself, will be perform this poem and others on Monday night at Words Towards Equality, Speak for Yourself’s inaugural event. Presented in conjunction with Dean of Students Kenneth Elmore’s Paperback Project, the group hopes that Words Towards Equality will show people that spoken-word poetry is a powerful, high-energy form of expression.

“There are so many different styles and different messages,” says Justin Lamb (COM’07), the group’s founder and president. “You have people who are comedians, people who have more of a hip-hop style, and just traditional poets.”

Monday’s event is also the launch of the Paperback Project, which Elmore conceived of last fall as a series designed to provoke discussion about contemporary issues; this month’s book is Rosa Parks by Douglas Brinkley, and the evening’s themes are civil and human rights.

Besides Saliba, performers include Lamb, other members of Speak for Yourself, and the local poets Jared Paul and AfroDZak. The event will also have an open-mike portion, and members of the BU community are urged to participate.

“We want to encourage people to do original stuff, because that’s when you get a stronger connection with the audience,” Lamb says.

As a coordinator for the First-Year Student Outreach Project, which offers incoming freshmen the opportunity to volunteer for community service in the Boston area the week before classes start, Lamb had recruited Taylor Mali, a spoken-word poet, to perform for the group. He was amazed at the students’ reaction, and founded Speak for Yourself last October as a result. “I can’t even describe the response he got,” Lamb says. “When they saw him in action, everyone was just really moved and motivated by it. With this club, we can do the same thing at BU.”

“The purpose of this event — the purpose of poetry — is just to get people thinking,” adds Saliba. “I think anything that achieves that is worthwhile.”

Words Towards Equality will be held in BU Central at 8 p.m. on Monday, February 13. For more information, e-mail Speak for Yourself at youspeak@bu.edu.