For a night, the lobby of Salt Lake City’s Eccles Theater was filled with the common language of love, through poetry, as 15 local poets took the stage for a multicultural, multilingual event.
Poet Gloria Arredondo, one of the performers and an event curator at the Salt Lake Speaks, said offstage, “I thought about all the challenges that each community has, when there’s a disaster or something that affects us all, we all get together because of love.”
Jenn Niedfeldt, the event’s producer and senior manager of community engagement for Salt Lake County Arts & Culture, said Arredondo came up with the night’s theme of “love.”
“The theme really came from a wonderful comment that Gloria had made while we were talking about pulling people together and the just the value of poetry and being able to express yourself in these beautifully artistic ways,” Niedfeldt said. “She had just kind of thrown it out there, ‘Oh, absolutely. This is like how we talk about love in all languages.’”
The idea of love, Niedfeldt said, contains “unified elements of the human experience” — something that anyone from any culture can understand.
The 15 poets at the free event, now in its third year, delivered their poetry in five languages — including Spanish and Mayan — with no translations onstage. (Translated versions of the poems were available in an online program.) Arredondo said that choice was deliberate, and had an impact in making the experience what it was.
“When I write in Spanish, there are layers of understanding,” Arredondo said. “But when I translate it,… English is more black-and-white than Spanish. I try to keep the feeling of the poem, but it is hard.”
Clear vases, each holding a single red rose, decorated the stage. Classical guitarist Michael Monson set the mood, strumming introductory music before the poets took the stage. The audience listened intently, with some couples embracing or laying their heads on each other’s shoulders.
The poets — talking loudly and clearly over the noise of passing cars and TRAX trains — spoke about love through different lenses: Self-love, love lost and familial love.
Abi Olufeko, who is from Nigeria, kicked off the program with a poem about love from different paths. Cowboy poet SP Romney followed with pieces chronicling the loss of love. Andrea G. Hardeman shined a light on the “loneliness epidemic.”
Daniel Morante, a West Valley City poet who was the youngest performer of the night, spoke about his experiences as a first-generation Chicano — in a set punctuated by his vocal cadence and movement.
“I feel like this generation questions love a lot,” he said, before reciting his poem “Proud.” “I’m growing up in a generation where love might not be cool.”
Iberty Mojica, delivering a poem originally written in Spanish called “Love in the Time of Armageddon,” observed, “sometimes it’s the red wine that no longer tastes the same because the kisses have scraped your tongue.”
Other poets who performed were Deyanira Cerrito Hernandez, Joel Long, Laura Ruiz Ortega, Lin Flores, Manuel Aaron Garcia Becerra, Jade Swayne, Sarahi Soriano Orozco, Dignora Miroslava Diaz Cardenas and Vicky Lowe.
Arredondo said the most exciting part of Friday’s event was the diversity of the poets — in age, ethnicity and background.
It was also exciting, she said, to recite poetry at the Eccles. “You don’t usually get invited to perform in this beautiful building,” she said.
The Eccles is “a community resource,” Niedfeldt said, and it’s the goal of Salt Lake County Arts & Culture to make the theater available for everyone.
“We realized that we hadn’t seen as many opportunities and platforms for spoken word and for slam poetry at this more professional theater level,” Niedfeldt said.
“Poetry gives me freedom. That freedom of speech we look for, I find it in poetry,” Arredondo said. “I can be the voice of my people and touch on very delicate things that are affecting my community in a very beautiful, diplomatic way — and that opens the door in a lot of places.”