Fourth-year sociology major Ryan Yamamoto will perform his own solo show of spoken word poetry at Muddy Waters Coffee House in downtown Santa Barbara tonight as a part of the quarterly poetry series presented by the UCSB MultiCultural Center (MCC).

This show is a special one: The series regularly features some of the country’s top spoken word performers including Rudy Francisco, Mayda del Valle and Anis Mojgani. Yamamoto, a veteran of Prof. Kip Fulbeck’s  “Art 137: Spoken Word” course in the UCSB Art Department, has had the honor of opening for all of these artists and more in his time at UCSB, and now can count himself among them as a featured performer.

Yamamoto began writing poems to cope with family trauma when he was in the eighth grade. He shared that he started taking spoken word seriously during his junior year of high school.

“I started writing actual spoken word pieces because of the good ‘ole American cliché: [for] a girl I liked,” Yamamoto said in an interview via email.

Yamamoto’s poems deal with a variety of subjects, including his mixed-race heritage, expectations of masculinity, comic books and general nerdom as well as serious political issues. Though he jokes about being the “Token Y chromosome” in his group of performing friends, Yamamoto is known to be a powerful performer who can inspire laughter and serious self-examination in the same poem.

Yamamoto shared that he is “incredibly nervous — very excited — but incredibly nervous” for the show.

The idea to do a solo show came about as Yamamoto began making a name for himself in spoken word events both on and off campus, through organizations like the MCC and the student group Right Side Up Poets. Last spring, Otha Cole, a marketing associate and student liaison for the MCC, approached Yamamoto about being a featured performer. Cole, a fellow UCSB alumnus who has been performing spoken word and hosting open mics for several years, has been working with Yamamoto for the last year to get him ready for this pivotal event.

“I knew Ryan took poetry seriously and was considering pursuing it after graduation,” Cole said in an interview via email. “We transform local venues into dynamic performance spaces. The shows we put on and the artists we bring are high quality and very professional … As to our mission, we pick artists [who] speak to their cultural experience and use their art to express it.”

When asked what he’s been doing to prepare, Yamamoto responded with his signature self-deprecating humor: “[I’ve been] looking like a crazy person on the beach and at the parks just talking to myself for hours, reciting and rewriting and editing my poems to the point where I have literally had a dream about rehearsing.”

He then added, “And lots and lots of tea.”

If you want to do something unique tonight, check out Ryan Yamamoto at Muddy Waters for an evening of poetry that is sure to inspire and make you think a little differently about the world around you. The event is free and it starts at 7:30 p.m.



A version of this story appeared on page 8 of Thursday, May 22, 2014′s print edition of the Daily Nexus.