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Filling Pages and Stages with Personal Poetry

“Find something that energizes you, gives you life, makes you happy, makes you sing...[My advice is] just following that — finding what drives you and pursuing that as much as you can. For me it was poetry.”—Shanga Labossiere CC’19

Shanga Labossiere CC’19 started writing rap and spoken word lyrics in seventh grade in Oakland, CA, experimenting with poetry in English classes and recognizing it in the work of hip-hop artists including Lil Wayne, Young Money and Nicki Minaj.

“I remember listening to the way they flipped and bent words and similes and metaphors and wanting to do what they did,” Labossiere, a creative writing major, said. “When I was going through things, I could translate frustration, anger, sadness to the page. I could speak my mind. The page would understand me and listen.”

Labossiere’s artistic catharsis continued with his matriculation at Columbia. He read poems at the New Student Orientation Program open mic, meeting people who became his closest friends. He also joined an on-campus art collective called Thou Shalt Not, which won Bacchanal’s Battle of the Bands 2017 to open the April 2017 spring concert. Labossiere was a sophomore.

“My first Bacchanal, I was working in Butler Library. I could hear the music from inside circulation,” he said. “To be on the other side, Saturday morning on Low Plaza looking at Butler and hear your voice reverberate… it’s a wild experience and your friends come out to support.”

Labossiere went from assisting patrons in Butler Library to performing before hundreds of people in front of it, and next to creative salons in Paris, “a place I’d only seen through textbooks,” where he studied abroad the following year.

“Everybody talks about study abroad, so I knew it was something I definitely wanted to do,” he said. At the same time, Labossiere was in the midst of transitioning to “something so far away. I was there more or less by myself, in a homestead. I couldn’t always talk to my parents [in California, with a nine-hour time difference]. It was hard at first.”

He drew on his experience with wellness and resilience for this leg of his Columbia journey. With self-reflection, determination and “the staff at Reid Hall and people I met in the community and so many other great people through my time there” Labossiere concluded that “between Morningside Heights, Harlem, New York City and Paris, I was the one constant. I [decided] I want to be and do better, to make this experience worthwhile.”

So, he took to the page and stage again.

“I’d been writing, taking walks, documenting my day to day. I went to an open mic and shared my work. I really enjoyed the experience, not only of sharing my work but also [of] interacting with people, not only French people at these open mics, but other Americans, Africans… a truly international community within the open mics, Labossiere said. “It was life-changing. I also had the opportunity to learn more about a global sense of blackness, more about my Haitian heritage and other Afro-Caribbean and African heritage as well.”

He performed at Reid Hall’s Global Center Symposium for the 50th anniversary of the May 1968 protests in Paris, writing and presenting a poem in French.

“Poetry was inside the classroom, inside the open mics and out. I was able to take classes in global poetic traditions… there was just poetry, poetry, poetry and Paris — I loved it,” he said.

The next stop for Labossiere is to keep on writing, with a goal of attending graduate school to get his M.F.A. “I’m interested in music too; I have taken music production classes here and definitely want to continue the music and writing — hip-hop, rap, poetry — definitely want to continue on the creative path,” he added.

As for advice to others, Labossiere is living that which he’d give: “Find something that energizes you, gives you life, makes you happy, makes you sing,.” he said “[My advice is] just following that — finding what drives you and pursuing that as much as you can. For me it was poetry.”

Published Friday May 17, 2019

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