“Poetry disarms people”: ETHS grad Liana Wallace on her spoken word poetry


Graphic by Cynthia Zhang. Photo courtesy of Liana Wallace.

Liana Wallace. An ETHS alumna, Wallace is known for her spoken word poetry.

Laya Neelakandan, Assistant Arts & Entertainment Editor

For Liana Wallace, spoken word poetry means vulnerability.

A Georgetown University sophomore and a 2019 Evanston Township High School alumna, Wallace said a club she joined in middle school introduced her to spoken word poetry. There, she drew inspiration from her peers, who freely described their personal struggles and views.

“I was really drawn to the depth at which they were talking about things,” Wallace said. “It’s just the ability to break down typical things you’re learning, and really profoundly describe those things and talk about them fearlessly.”

She said as someone who was developing her own racial consciousness, it was “beautiful” to see and participate in poetry that communicated her feelings and let her be completely vulnerable.

Spoken word is now a central part of Wallace’s life. From local competitions to a recent performance at the Fleetwood-Jourdain Theatre, Wallace uses poetry to express her feelings and frustrations.

What starts as a conversation with her family or a story in the news quickly turns into a work of art for Wallace.

“That’s the seed that blooms into this poem — it’s the people I love in life that influence my poetry,” Wallace said. “It’s a huge source of power to say, ‘Hey, here I am as I am’ and be completely human… that shocks people.”

She said she loves how her poetry has different meanings for different people depending on their own personal experiences, and she hopes they take away their own interpretations.

Wallace recently wrote and performed “Ode to 2020” as part of Fleetwood-Jourdain’s Black History Month programming. The poem took the audience through each month of 2020 and examined the year’s broader significance.

Tim Rhoze, artistic director at the Fleetwood-Jourdain Theatre, said he connected with Wallace through a friend who had heard Wallace’s poetry.

“Directing her was not a difficult task at all,” Rhoze said. “She’s very talented and a very intelligent, creative individual, so collaborating with her was a joy.”

Rhoze said Wallace’s passion, creativity and intelligence brought the experience to life, and the “humanity she possesses is ever-present.” He said he thought the end product was very powerful.

Dancer Kara Roseborough choreographed and performed a dance to accompany Wallace’s poetry. Roseborough said she “took a more abstract approach” when choreographing, creating a piece that went along with the poem’s imagery but did not perfectly align with each word.

“(The poem) is so powerful — I really appreciate how beautifully crafted it is while being incredibly forthright in its message,” Roseborough said. “She is creating art that is very aware and timely.”

Wallace said the task of writing a poem about 2020 was initially daunting — it’s been a heavy year, especially for the Black community, she said. But breaking it down by month made it easier to do 2020 justice.

Although Wallace is unsure of her future plans, she knows spoken word will always remain a part of her life.

“Spoken word is the centripetal force in my life… it’s how I process things and think about things and move through the world,” Wallace said. “It’s the core of who I am.”

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @laya_neel

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