SGN – Voices Rising, a Queer spoken-word extravaganza

by Shaun Knittel – SGN Staff Writer

December 11, 2009

Richard Hugo House

On December 11, Voices Rising returned to the Richard Hugo House with their sixth powerful and passionate Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Questioning (LGBTQ) Queers of color spoken-word extravaganza. Nearly 150 people turned out to the local event, which is quickly becoming a must-see show for any poetry or theater aficionado.

From start to finish, Voices Rising is a mind-blowing and enlightening evening jam-packed with vocally gifted artists. Like a runaway train, the urban poets take the audience on a collision course towards an emotionally charged explosion of introspection and empowerment.

Voices Rising founder and artistic director Storme Webber emceed the event. Webber, a well-respected poet, spoken-word artist, vocalist and cultural producer, is a Richard Hugo House writer-in-residence, and made the perfect host – it is obvious that she pours her heart and soul into Voices Rising. Webber personally selects each act and tirelessly promotes the writing and artistic expression that comes out of the Seattle LGBTQ artists of color. She opened and closed the show by gracefully thanking the audience for supporting local arts.

The show, sponsored by Pride Foundation, featured Chad Goller-Sojourner and four incredible Queer women of color: Crystal Ybarra, Luzviminda Uzuri “LuLu” Carpenter, Ela Barton, and Marita Isabel.

Ela Barton was the first artist to wow the audience. Barton, ranked as one of the top poets at the 2009 International Women of the World Poetry Slam, is not a new face to fans of the Seattle Poetry Slam. Barton is unapologetic, smart, and sharp-tongued – nothing seemed immune to her poignant observations. From taking on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (Barton is a former U.S. Navy sailor) to same-sex stereotypes, she seemed the perfect fit as the opening act, eliciting cheers from the audience for piece after piece.

Next up was Marita Isabel, a Filipina American diva whose happy energy was infectious. Isabel is somewhat of a two-sided coin; on one side, her poetry reveals a self-conscious woman struggling to see herself as a sexual being, while on the other side, she describes a steamy sexual encounter vocalized as different kinds of fruit. With a flash of her beautiful smile, she’s got you hooked. Just when you think Isabel is done blowing your mind, she reads another poem and you’ve got a new favorite from her repertoire of blissful “goodbad things.”

The featured performer of the night, Chad Goller-Sojourner, is as funny as he is serious. Using wit to communicate drama, Goller-Sojourner held the audience with bated breath as he performed excerpts from his award-winning and nationally touring solo show Sitting with Rich White Girls: Memoirs of a Bulimic Black Boy. More than just a memoir, his is a crushingly honest reclamation story of a fat, Gay, bulimic black boy raised by white parents and struggling to find beauty, acceptance and safe space in a world that seems to be short on all. Through his pain and triumph at the hands of some of life’s hardest lessons, Goller-Sojourner pulls at your heartstrings and makes you smile because, in the end, he made it through OK. In many ways, he has created a story we can all own; there is a little piece of all of us in his recollections of the past, metaphorically speaking. When it comes to dramatic interpretation, it doesn’t get any better than Chad Goller-Sojourner.

Voices Rising repeat poet Crystal Ybarra is always at the top of her game, wherever she reads. Ybarra offers raw, unapologetic writing, drawing from realities of life and mind, she is an in-your-face artist with a rhythm divine. Listening to Ybarra is pleasure and pain, like running your fingers quickly through a candle flame – her words are as hot as they are cold, dancing about, emitting heat and light. True, on the surface her poems speak of drug abuse, death and despair, but you soon find that after the layers peel away, Ybarra speaks of survival and reclaimed power. Without a doubt, she tells it like it is, and you find yourself wanting her to tell you again, and again, and again – even if her words aren’t wrapped in pretty pink bows.

Luzviminda Uzuri “LuLu” Carpenter, an artist who challenges oppression through different outlets, closed the show. LuLu began with a piece about the horrors that can be found on the internet, by describing that with every click of the mouse you can view things that you maybe ought not see. Her connection with the audience was instantaneous, each savory word was thought-provoking and heavy. Still, LuLu was anything but depressing; more teacher than poet, she taught the audience spoken-word 101, and we loved every minute of it. To close her set, she invited a group of friends onstage to sing Bob Marley’s “Turn Your Lights Down Low” as she played drums.

Richard Hugo House’s intimate, cozy theater served as the perfect venue for the event. One of the most enjoyable aspects of Voices Rising is the non-commercialization of the event. When the audience applauds, the cheering goes on as long as it naturally should. Nothing is hurried or plastic; the show truly is a unique experience that is a Capitol Hill treasure. The artists are from our own backyard and are unpretentious and unpresumptuous – they simply approach the microphone and spit some of the best spoken-word you could hear. These voices truly are rising, and the sky is the limit.

If you would like to be considered as a performer for a future Voices Rising event or are interested in future sponsorship, e-mail Storme Webber at You can find Voices Rising on Facebook at and MySpace at