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‘The Other Box’ Poetry Reading at Bottoms Up Centers Around Columbus Immigrants

Taijuan Moorman Taijuan Moorman ‘The Other Box’ Poetry Reading at Bottoms Up Centers Around Columbus Immigrants
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A 2015 snapshot of the contributions of Columbus immigrants estimated that immigrants account for nearly 25 percent of all population growth. This Saturday, a poetry reading featuring these immigrants and their children will open up conversation around this increasingly contentious topic and its effects on voices right here at home.

Featured poets include Anisa Gandevivala, Ruth Awad, Ethan Rivera, Soz Zangana and Xavier Smith. The event is hosted by Geoff Anderson, The Other Box’s creator and a poet in his own right. In the conversation that follows, Anderson talks about the importance of exposure to new ideas and perspectives regarding immigration, as well as what The Other Box: New World means in a city like Columbus.

Can you talk about some of the featured poets, and why you chose them to discuss ideas and issues surrounding immigration?

I’m very excited about our performers because, in addition to enjoying another opportunity to take in their talent, having a variety of perspectives on an issue presents a more nuanced narrative. For that reason, The Other Box: New World will consist of people who have come to the U.S. mainland themselves, as well as those whose families came a generation or more ago. All of them I have met or seen in Columbus’ very active poetry scene; I’ve had the chance to personally review and/or have my own work reviewed by many of them. Whether they focus their craft for the stage or the page, or both, this is a group of poets to pay attention to.

Why did you choose Bottoms Up as the location for this particular poetry reading?

When designing these shows, I want to support the communities we’re promoting. Therefore, I scouted for venues run by individuals or families who have come to the United States more recently. Virginia Nunes Gutierrez’s space is perfect, and her desire to make Bottoms Up an anchor in Franklinton is truly inspiring. Coffee shops are often taken as signs of gentrification, and with a lot of development coming east of 315, the area is changing daily. Yet, her commitment to focusing on the history of the space and neighborhood, promoting drives and activities that support the families living there now, only makes me prouder that we can help shine more light on the great work she’s doing.

Why do you feel this conversation is important to have, especially in Columbus?

I am not ignoring the political significance that has been placed on immigration; I am also not ignoring the fact that, in the poetry scene, it is rare to have features for poets from this demographic, let alone five of them taking the stage in one night. This conversation is important because I do not believe all members of our city have had the chance to speak. We need celebration, not silence.

What motivated you to put an event like this together?

I have been an English as a Second Language Instructor for over seven years. Students would bring me stories of oppression they experienced firsthand, especially after the election, in Columbus. In fact, even at a language center in the area, the administration downplayed the realities of what living in this country can be like for those with different skin tones, styles of dress, or even language. I’ve seen the isolation that comes from not being listened to.

As a bi-racial poet, I have experienced the burden of assumptions placed on me. This is what inspired the first Other Box last May, which was dedicated to bi-racial writers. That was the first time I had seen so many artists who identified like me come together as a family, despite each of us having a different heritage. This is the next chapter: giving that experience to share the joy, grief, suffering, and triumph that comes with making a new home in a new land to those who have done so firsthand or whose families did before their birth.

And why is it important to showcase underrepresented voices and identities in the poetry scene?

Without an opportunity to speak for oneself, I question how well one can form an identity independently. However, the goal with The Other Box series is not just giving a platform to an underrepresented voice, but finding as many different aspects of that dialogue as possible. There is no one experience that captures an entire group of people. Understanding a variety of individual perspectives allows us to piece together a narrative that is relatable to a larger community.

I think hearing the differences in each poet’s work, whether for subject matter or opinion, isn’t just important for the audience. This is powerful for the poets as well. It validates their words. I think there can be a fear to deviate from what is expected of you, and this is also true in writing. I hope that by having a showcase like this, the writers on the stage or in the audience can listen and understand that, yes, their perspective is right, too, even if it differs. Consider The Other Box: New World a welcome party you’re invited to.

The Other Box: New World will take place Saturday, March 3 from 8 – 10 p.m. You can find more information on the Columbus Underground events page.

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