Slam poet brings laughter and cultural awareness to WCU

Western Carolina University’s Last Minute Productions (LMP) brought award winning slam poet, G Yamazawa, to campus on Monday, Feb. 29, where he entertained an audience of about 50 students and faculty members with his comical spoken word performance in UC Illusions.

A portrait of G Yamazawa via his Facebook page.

A portrait of G Yamazawa via his Facebook page.

In between telling personal stories from his childhood growing up “southern Asian” with Japanese immigrant parents in Durham, NC, explaining his appreciation for both Teriyaki chicken and fried chicken or sharing his witty and original poetry in spoken word, Yamazawa had the crowd rolling in laughter.

“I love performing in the South. What do y’all do here in Cullowhee? Go to Wal-Mart?” is how he began the show, starting the evening off with a lot of laughs.

Yamazawa told the audience about his parent’s immigration to the United States in 1979, and his father’s Japanese restaurant business. He described his eccentric immigrant household, so different than those of his friends growing up in Durham. He told stories about his funny mother, who giggles at English curse words and dances to rap music.

By the end of his one-hour performance, one thing was made clear: Yamazawa is proud to be exactly who he is.

Yamazawa just released his first self-titled EP on Feb. 12. It contains five of his original poems put to music.

While many of his poems are now set to music in hip-hop style, Monday night’s performance was just simply spoken word. In the midst of jokes and personal anecdotes about elementary school and his dad’s homemade bamboo chicken coop, Yamazawa recited five of his poems, including “Dear Grandma“, a crowd favorite.

G Yamazawa's first self-titled EP's album cover, via his

G Yamazawa’s first self-titled EP’s album cover, via

The audience of students snapped and clapped in appreciation and awe as Yamazawa’s clever, comical jokes turned into something more serious and heartfelt:

My grandmother’s frail fingers casually carry 87 years of her life, and her arthritis tells stories…
Moving crowds like wind, a five foot tsunami dressed in a kimono, face paint and culture, how beautiful…
A wrinkle is worth more than a diamond could ever be… Her feet are deformed from dancing on top of decades
I used to think we took our shoes off to help keep the house clean, but it’s really to respect the land she walks on…”

As a tribute to his grandmother and his culture, he recited in Japanese, easily transitioning from his normal American dialect, to his family’s native language. As Yamazawa said, he was born with two tongues.

The 25 year old can proudly boast the titles of National Poetry Slam Champion, Individual World Poetry Slam Finalist and Southern Fried Champion. He also snagged second place at the Ontario International Poetry Slam in 2012. Both Beltway Poetry Quarterly and Asian Fortune Magazine have picked up and published Yamazawa’s unique hip-hop styled poetry. According to Yamazawa’s website, he is widely considered one of the top young spoken word artists in the country that emerged out of the slam poetry movement. Read more about the slam poetry movement here.

“Poetry is a very active art form,” said Yamazawa. “But you don’t have to be artistic to be creative.”

According to Yamazawa, his creative juices began flowing at an early age and he started to put them to use in the sixth grade. He took up drawing and painting, then moved to graffiti, then dance, then writing – all of which he says foster creativity, and do not necessarily require an artist’s hand.

His performance on Monday night proved that Yamazawa is not only a creative soul and comedian, but a man with deep convictions about self identity and the importance of culture.

G Yamazawa performs slam poetry on stage. Via

G Yamazawa performs slam poetry on stage. Via

The majority of his show was spent telling the audience about his relationship with his Japanese background. He revealed that he was picked on as a kid – growing up as an Asian Buddhist in the “Bible belt” made Yamazawa feel like an outsider. His first name is George, a name that he does not truly identify with, and that his parents only gave him to make him fit in American culture.

He went through what he called an identity crisis, and he didn’t know who he was until March 2011, when a disastrous magnitude-9 earthquake hit Japan. Then, he felt a true connection to his motherland, and a true heartbreak for his people. Yamazawa started to take pride in his culture, a main driving point that all of his poems hinge on.

“A smile won’t shine until you wear it with pride,” he said.

In closing, Yamazawa said his mom was at first skeptical about his goal to be an artist, but he kept pursuing his dreams. He shared an inspirational word with the crowd before he exited, “Whatever it is that fulfills you, please, chase it until your last breath.”

LMP’s Arts and Cultural Coordinator, Maven Mayfield, said she hopes students at the event were inspired by Yamazawa’s performance. By the sound of incessant snapping and overwhelming applause throughout the show, it sure looked like Yamazawa left his mark on WCU.