Portrait of An Artist: Teake '12

Teake ’12 is a Women, Gender, and Sexuality concentrator in Kirkland House with an affinity for performance arts. He is currently a member of Harvard’s nascent spoken word group, Speak Out Loud, which was founded by Cassandra E. Weston ’14 and Kyra A. Atekwana ’14. Teake has been creating original pieces for two years and considers spoken word a verbal equivalent to martial arts.  Teake performed with Speak Out Loud at Harvard’s annual celebration of the life and message of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., marking the first time that spoken word poetry was performed inside of Memorial Church.

The Harvard Crimson: Why spoken word?

Teake: It’s hip, you know? It’s like poetry, but its also got this rhythmic, musical feel to it. It’s open ended—there’s no one thing that spoken word is. As opposed to written poetry, it’s not just about the content. It’s also about how you deliver it—you can evoke a certain response from people in the moment. I came to it from Wushu, which is performance martial arts. I’ve been doing that since I was 10, and there’s a group here on campus…so I’ve been on stage a lot.  I really like that performance feel. And then I found spoken word, and there are a lot of transferable skills. From being on stage with the swords and doing flips to being on stage doing verbal acrobatics, I like the live performance element­—excitement.

THC: Speak Out Loud is relatively new on campus. How did it start up?

T: It was the initiative of two current sophomores, Kyra and Cassandra. I heard about it through Optional Winter Activities Week (OWAW) programming. I saw that these two [then] freshmen were putting on this spoken word workshop. I went over there, checked it out, and I could see that they had…a lot of interest. It was last spring when they created a club...Now it’s officially recognized, and they have funding and faculty recognition. It’s really taken off over one year.

THC: Did you do spoken word before joining Speak Out Loud?

T: I started two summers ago. I had kind of known what it was—I remember being younger and my sister told me to watch “Def Poetry Jam.” I was 10 or 11. I didn’t know what was going on. I went back a few years ago and saw some of those old clips, and they made a lot more sense to me. It was interesting. Spoken word existed on campus before—there were [some] isolated efforts. What Kyra and Cassandra did was bring that together into a cohesive group so there’s a central space for people to gather.

THC: Is there a constant theme in your pieces?

T: Things always are changing over time. I’m always listening to other artists. I just try [to] spend as much time as I can going to different live events and feed off [of] other people and ideas. Some common themes are issues...of identity, race, gender, and class. I try to have a message in there, some theme of social justice, but at the same time not be so pedantic about it or sort of in your face with the message. There are themes throughout, but at the same time, it’s also all about having a good time and making sure people are excited to hear [the poetry]. It’s a balance.

THC: What’s the writing process like for a spoken word piece?

T: Chaotic. The most fun thing this semester that I’ve been doing is [working] on group pieces, which are always interesting because you can’t open a textbook and be like, “Okay, this is how you start writing a piece.This is what you do first.”  Everyone has their own way…. Every time it’s different.  Meeting up with other people is always interesting because your styles…might clash a little bit.  It’s always an experiment trying to figure out what you’re going to do. It’s always trial and error. You want something to come together organically, whether you’re working in a group or by yourself. You give me a prompt and I’m not going to sit down and [say] “Do this, this and that.” Things just come together and you’re just really thankful [for] how it turns out. Hopefully.

THC: Do see yourself doing spoken word for the rest of your life?

T: I definitely would like to keep going with performance in some degree, but I prefer to try different genres and be versatile, to open up horizons [and] reach different audiences. There’s the martial art, the spoken word, and also some musical stuff I’ve been doing.  I’ve been collaborating with people who play instruments [and] trying to connect [music and poetry to] reach different people with a different sound. I’ll keep going with it, but I’ll also keep trying different things.

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