This week’s TNL featured poetry by performer, activist and educator Pages Matam. The event started off with junior Will Karney, also known as Maze, performing a rap set to warm up the crowd before Matam took the stage.
In the crowd was freshman Adeline Tao, a huge fan of Matam’s.
“I watch his poems on YouTube all the time,” she said. “When I saw he was coming to Ramapo, I was freaking out.”
Matam delivered a string of powerful and emotional poems influenced by his own experiences as an immigrant, a father and an addict. He uses his poems as a way to express difficult emotions he would not typically talk about. He told the crowd that people often say to him, “I learn more about you through your poems than an actual conversation with you.”
He started off the night with a poem entitled “Wings,” dedicated to his mother.
“I always like to start my sets by starting at the source, and she is definitely the source,” he said.
The next poem, “A Cancerous Growth,” went out to his 8-year-old son, who Matam said has shaped his life tremendously, “not just as an artist, not just in the context of fatherhood, but most importantly just as a human being.”
The poem looks at his relationship with his own son compared with his relationship with his father, as well as his battle with alcoholism.
Matam performed another original poem called “The Good Men Project” in a mix of his Cameroonian and American accents, looking deep into the blend of identities and cultures in his life brought about through his immigration.
Amidst his serious poems, he read several that he dubbed “Drake-us.” Matam descirbed Drake-us as “haikus that deal with past partners, new lovers and flames,” that he wrote about his ex-girlfriend while on tour. He then moved on to a real love poem, which he said was outside of his norm but that he was challenged to write.
The self-declared gummy bear elitist and bowtie enthusiast rounded out his set with a rap-esque poem as a nod to his opening act, a poem on the erasure of voices of color, and finally a poem on racism and African culture.
In his home of Washington D.C., he is the director of poetry events at Busboys and Poets, a chain of restaurants and performance spaces. He is also a writing teacher and an activist for immigration and survivors of sexual assault.
Freshman Catherine Clinton was especially drawn to his poem “A Cancerous Growth,” saying it really made her think.
“It’s a part of living and everyone goes through these downfalls. It’s just a part of life and you keep going.”
He ended the night with one piece of advice for all the students present. “You can love hard,” he said, “but always love yourself harder.”