BY WELLINGTON TREMAYNE '17
On Feb. 15, writer, director and performer Kai Davis performed spoken word poetry in an event for this semester’s Building Bridges: Trans and Queer People of Color Speaker Series. The free event, which was sponsored by the gender studies department and the Office of the Dean of Faculty, drew a full house and an admiring crowd. “I first saw her at Voices in 2015 and thought she was amazing. I couldn’t wait to see her performance tonight,” said Gabby Hernandez ’19 while waiting eagerly after the show to meet Davis.
Davis’ poetry focuses on race, gender, sexuality and their intersectional ties, drawing from her own experiences as well as material she sees on Twitter, Instagram and the news. Her work is filled with resonances of love, anger and suffering.
Davis performed two poems that discussed sexism committed by black cis men against black women, making the point that it is “important to recognize how much black women sacrifice every day.” She performed another poem about intimacy, sexuality and the self-destructive tendencies that are often generated after a breakup. Onji Bae ’17 said it was a highlight of the night. “To see her talk about a love — a specifically QPOClove — that we are all too familiar with, was both validating and refreshing to hear,” Bae said. The audience’s cheers and applause moved Davis to joke: “People like hearing about sex for some reason.”
In addition to speaking of her own queerness and heartbreak, Davis took a moment to honor her late father Byron, who recently died at the age of 51. After describing Byron as an eclectic and talented man who inspired Kai and taught her how to write poetry, she brought the moment to a close with a short poem from Thanksgiving 2016 — which was the last time she saw her father before his passing.
After this somber departure, the poet immediately returned to her candid, energetic presence. She asked for requests from the audience — something that she said she never does. The audience’s strong reaction prompted Davis to recite two poems titled “The Fuck I Look Like?” and “Dear Keef Chief,” which received a standing ovation.
According to her website, Davis has received international acclaim as a two-time slam champion after winning 2011’s Brave New Voices and 2016’s College Union Poetry Slam Invitational. She has performed at the San Francisco Opera House, The Kimmel Center and TEDxPhilly, as well as on CNN, PBS, BET and NPR.