Visiting poet Jae Nichelle engages virtual audience

Photo by Emily Melvin

On the evening of Thursday, Feb. 11, the College Programming Board welcomed poet and spoken word artist Jae Nichelle for a virtual performance. Nichelle is a young and empowering artist from Atlanta, GA. who focuses on the strength, struggle and beauty of being a Black woman. 

Nichelle first gained popularity when her most popular poem, “Friends with Benefits,” went viral online in 2017. With more than 1.3 million views on YouTube, the poem about living with anxiety is a stunning work of art, filled with relevancy, relatability and vulnerability. On Jan. 31, “Friends with Benefits” became available on all music streaming platforms, bringing Nichelle towards a new level of success.

Prior to the performance, it was recommended that participants watch the renowned performance of “Friends with Benefits” to get a sense of Nichelle and her work. I immediately felt drawn to the power and poise Nichelle releases during her live performances, and I could not wait to see more of her talent. 

It was an intimate and refreshing experience to see Nichelle perform “live." Nichelle, poised with her large microphone and contagious smile, made the small group of six participants feel included and like old time friends. 

She explained that spoken word poetry thrives with audience interaction. Yelling, cheering, clapping, snapping or whatever reaction feels right in the moment is part of the poetry slam experience, and it lets her know how her audience is feeling.

Because of the lack of shared physical space, Nichelle encouraged her audience to either keep our cameras on and move with a visual response, or, for those who chose to keep their camera off, use the chat function and leave messages when they felt connected. For the evening, the audience used multiple asterisk symbols to signify clapping or snapping. 

The evening swayed from snaps and holding back tears to laughs, and discussing the pivotal question: is oat milk or almond milk better? (Spoiler! According to Nichelle, the correct answer is oat milk, and I wholeheartedly agree). 

Nichelle not only brings a beautiful and complex energy to her performance, but also a true interest in the people around her. From the very beginning to the last moments of the Zoom call, Nichelle took genuine pauses to hear from her audience, as well as compliment us on being such an incredible group to vibe with for the evening. 

Her compassion and ability to verbally depict some of our most torturous, unexplainable emotions in such a raw, outspoken manner left me at a loss for words.

After hearing and watching her recite a handful of poems, I still find “Friends with Benefits” to be the piece with some of my favorite lines, where her anxiety holds a personality and mind of its own: “She’s the longest relationship I have ever had / And as everyone leaves / She is the only relationship I can count on.”

More on Jae Nichelle can be found on her website, including options to purchase her debut poetry collection, “The Porch (As Sanctuary)."