‘Come up here, the stage is yours, share your story’
By Marlena Chertock
First published in The Writers’ Bloc.
It was his fourth time hosting the open mic night at the Busboys and Poets in Hyattsville, but you would never know. Pages Matam, donned in a red bowtie and black fedora hat, seems like he’s been hosting his whole life.
“I love being on the other side of the mic,” he said. “Performing is tiring. Facilitating others is another release after a long day of working.”
Pages, 23, has hosted the open mic night at the Hyattsville Busboys every second Thursday of the month since November, and was made the official host in January.
For a year, Pages attended the University of Maryland before dropping out to pursue poetry and music more seriously. In addition to poetry, he plays the drums and raps.
“I couldn’t do full-time school and full-time poetry, so something had to go,” he said.
So he attended Montgomery College for three and a half years and completed his associate’s degree in communications.
Pages also teaches poetry to elementary, middle and high school students through workshops by Split This Rock. As he said in one of his poems, he gets to be a child psychiatrist; using the microphone as a stethoscope and helping students better themselves through poetry.
“Poetry is life, man, poetry is love,” he said. “And what is better than giving love to someone.”
Many people performed for the first time at the Feb. 10 open mic, never showing nervousness but instead walking up to the mic with confidence and a strong voice. One first-timer, or “open mic virgin,” as Pages said, was Jose Riggins, 19, who read about struggling to figure out love.
“Love is a risk you take; tonight I’m feeling like love is a mistake,” Riggins said, his rhymes and meaning making the audience murmur with understanding.
Artists are not censored at Busboys, according to Pages, who often laughed loudly or snapped during readings.
“Nothing is held back,” he said.
Several audience members and performers were comfortable enough to share their experiences, triumphs, sexual encounters and struggles, like CJ Johnson, a waitress who performed her spoken word poem in between serving customers by yelling and walking swiftly around the room.
“Right now my life is hard, so I guess you’re gonna hear about that tonight,” Johnson said, yelling because she didn’t go on stage or speak into the mic.
The poems ranged from becoming comfortable in your own skin and race, racism, the relationship between time and money and friends and associates and finding yourself. There was also a song by Frankie Barnacz, from the local band East of Beautiful, and comedy by a gay African-American performer.
“I’m black and gay, I’ve got two stereotypes to live up to,” he joked.
Juniors Anika Warner and Codi Gugliuzza, two Writers’ House students, also read for the first time at Busboys. Warner received claps, snaps and “yeahs” throughout and after her “Beautiful Black Woman Empire,” a poem about becoming a confident black woman and refusing to be a prize for boys to conquer.
Members from Parkdale High School’s Lyrikal Storm, the school’s poetry group, attended and read as well. Pages was once the president of the group from 2005 to 2007, when he attended the high school.
“Poetry has allowed me to be comfortable with myself,” Pages said. “Poetry has allowed me to love my scars.”
View more photos of Pages at Busboys and Poets here.