Eleanor Igwe ‘17
Terisa Siagatonu’s poetry found a receptive audience at Smith on Oct. 20. Siagatonu, who has performed at the White House, is a prominent arts educator who coaches college slam teams and teaches writing workshops to young writers. She is also a community organizer and a spoken word poet who works out of the Bay Area.
An alumna of the University of California, Santa Cruz (UCSC), Siagatonu discovered a love of spoken word poetry her first year of college. After falling down “a rabbit hole of YouTube videos” she began writing her own poetry and then competing. From there, Siagatonu went on to win the UCSC Grand Slam Championship and help her college team place second in the nation at the College Unions Poetry Slam Invitational (CUPSI). As a 3-time member of Da Poetry Lounge/Hollywood Slam team, she helped the team place second in the National Poetry Slam. She’s a current member of the Drawbridge Collective.
Siagatonu’s style is somewhere between poetry and elegant, inspirational prose. Her love for sharing her art with others comes out with every line she speaks. Siagatonu’s writing, like her community organizing and arts education outreach, grows out of her identities and the social issues that are important to her.
Siagatonu’s set spans a breadth of subjects from the personal to the political. She shares poems about Samoan identity, colorism within families, trauma and anxiety, being a student of color at a predominantly white institution, establishing an identity as an LGBTQ person, love, intersectionality, being an ally and police brutality. Between poems, she recounts the weekend she spent at a silent meditation retreat at a Buddhist temple and asks questions to get to know the audience.
After greeting and thanking her uncle who flew in to show support, Siagatonu answered some questions from the audience. Asked about what ideas and social causes she wants to bring attention to with her work, she speaks about the fact that Samoa could be underwater in a matter of a few decades due to global warming. She added that a complicated relationship to water is something that she has been starting to explore in her writing, due to her being based out of California, which has been experiencing prolonged severe drought, and watching the potential destruction of her patrimonial home. She said that because of this, she has developed a new admiration for the rivers and natural landscapes of the places where she has been touring.
When asked about her influences and other poets she admires, she gave shout outs to Shihan and Rudy Francisco among others. She also mentioned Pages Matam and Elizabeth Acevedo, poets who have also performed at Smith in the last few years. Reflecting on her experience in poetry, Siagatonu mentions how surreal it is that the poets she idolized when she first started out have become her teammates and mentors. Siagatonu also gave a shout out to her partner Janae Johnson, who is a poet as well. She mentioned that her favorite recent poem by Johnson is Black Rage and that she loves every poem she’s written about Stevie Wonder.
Siagatonu is a multi-faceted artist who cannot be contained by labels. She cannot be defined be either the personal or the political, but by the interaction between them.