Spoken word poets rage against Asian stereotypes

“Who are you? What are you saying? Are you gonna tell me?” Anyone walking past room 202 West of Brower Student Center at 8:12 p.m. last Tuesday could hear this being yelled by the people inside. It was part of the interactive piece by Yellow Rage entitled “Listen Asshole.”

Yellow Rage is a pair of Philadelphia-based, Asian American spoken word poets, Michelle Myers and Catzie Vilayphonh. They made their first public appearance as “Black Hair, Brown Eyes, Yellow Rage” on HBO’s Russell Simmons Def Poetry Jam in December 2000. There they made the semi-finals and started taking their show cross-country from Seattle, Wash. to New York City.

“I got into spoken word poetry about four years ago at a writing workshop in Philadelphia called the ‘Asian Arts Initiative,'” Meyers said. “That’s where Catzie and I met and did our first performance together.” It was uphill from there for the groundbreaking poets.

Myers and Vilayphonh use their poetry to provide awareness on subjects usually left alone. They approach issues such as cultural appropriation, ethnic pride, stereotypes and fetishes.

Through their voices, they speak the hard truth of these issues and challenge common misconceptions of gender and “Asianness.”

The dynamic duo did a series of 12 pieces. Together they opened with “Listen Asshole” and “Yellow Rage.” “Listen Asshole” was written as a response to commonly asked questions such as those heard by passers by of the room.

Myers and Villayphonh alternated performing four single pieces between their duets. Myers started her solo pieces with an angry and sad piece called “Asian American Mythology.”

She followed with a deeply moving piece entitled “Notes From the Underground.” This poem was inspired by the 10 year memorial service of Vincent Chin, a martyr for racist crimes.

Myers then performed “Detroit Summer.” “Detroit Summer,” a written response to a block party she attended after Chin’s memorial and was primarily dedicated to the children who attended. She closed with “Ancestor Worship” which is dedicated to her ancestors.

Vilayphonh’s pieces were all written for a poetry course she once took. She opened with “My Real Reason for Rhyming,” which she explained was to “get shit off her chest.” The next piece was “Number One Haiku” combined with “To Know What I Am.” Both pieces dealt with overall ethnic pride.

She then recited a series of poems dealing with love. “Deep Love Poem” was a mockery of the now clich?d love poems and phrases in them. Following that was “Spoiled,” which she produced when her boyfriend asked her to write him a love poem. This poem led to a breakup, which inspired “Hey Mother-Fucker, I have your Social Security Number.” Her final poem was “What Poetry Is,” which was summed up as thinking out loud.

The pair closed with two more duets. The first, “Give Our Sistahs a Raise,” dealt with our ignorance of the hard labor put into things we buy on a regular basis and how the makers of these products barely get a fraction of the price. Myers and Vilayphonh closed with “I’m a Woman Not a Flava.”

“My overall reaction was respect. I completely trashed my Asian fetish because of it,” Amber Ramsey, sophomore women’s and gender studies and communication major said. Ramsey was an active audience member throughout the performance. She was aware of some of the duo’s works before Tuesday’s show. “My favorite piece was ‘I’m a Woman Not a Flava,'” Ramsey said. “I wanted to request it but luckily enough, they performed it as the last piece. That one is just so well put together and its usage of poetic elements is unique, witty, bold and funny.”

More information on Yellow Rage can be found at the duo’s Web site, yellowrage.com. There you can read about the pair and their accomplishments. Yellow Rage’s first CD “Black Hair, Brown Eyes, Yellow Rage, Volume 1,” and Myers’ book “Ancestor Worship.”

One thing is for sure – Yellow Rage isn’t just for Asians.