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February 26, 2024
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Poet and Activist Trans South Asian Duo DarkMatter Performs at UMass Boston

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UMass Boston students Hallima Isack Docmanov (furthest left) and Stephen Henderson (second from left) pose with poetry duo Dark Matter. 

The slam poetry scene has been working to drag poetry from mystifying academia to everyday people, and no one does it quite as well as the trans South Asian performance and activist pair known as DarkMatter. DarkMatter aren’t just about tugging the heart strings—they’re about challenging a plethora of oppressive forces at work in our day-to-day lives.
The witty and at times brutally honest Alok Vaid-Monon and Janani Balasubramanian cannot be summed up as “just slam poets,” but are artists who invoke the good fight in every part of who they are. From fashion to jokes, the two work against binary gender roles, transphobia, classism, and racism whilst skillfully exploring the significance of culture and history. At the same time, the duo seeks to challenge the idea that the oppressed can only make art about their oppression, and confront universal experiences such as falling in love.
The artists are based in New York City and tour worldwide to sold-out venues and campuses. Due to the combined efforts of various clubs on campus, including the Asian Student Center, Queer Student Center, and the University of Massachusetts Boston’s Slam Poet Society, DarkMatter performed a new act called “#ItGetsBitter” in the Snowden Auditorium of Wheatley hall on April 8.
#ItGetsBitter does not limit itself to standard slam expectations of a consistent poetic stance. DarkMatter incorporates a playfulness that, rather than lessens the bite of their truths, enhances understanding of the way discrimination seeps into everyday situations. The pair are able to talk about the things that hurt in a way that makes them a bit easier to examine. In a hilarious series of reimagined nursery rhymes collectively titled “Some Nursery Rhymes for Babies Resisting Empire,” Balasubramanian pokes fun at common societal habits: “Little Miss Muffett/sat on a tuffett/eating her curds and whey./Along came a white vegan lady from PETA/who shamed her for it/with no race, class, or disability analysis.”
The pair don’t restrict themselves to one style and talked to the crowd openly, often recounting details of their own lives. Vaid-Menon, for example, emphasized the fact that the gay rights movement has been carried on the backs of trans people from day one, yet trans people, especially trans people of color, are brutalized physically and socially on a daily basis.
Perhaps one of the most effective elements of DarkMatter’s performance is their ability to own the stage. The two make themselves at home in the space, pacing about and seeming to behave as they would in any other context. In that sense, watching the duo feels more like hanging out with some friends who do nothing but encourage love and support than like watching professionals talk down to a crowd.
Although the two are gaining immense popularity, they keep themselves and their fans grounded in reality. They critique the idea that the only way to create change is to be famous, affluent, or college-educated. “Some of the greatest and most brilliant people I know are people who are homeless,” Vaid-Menon said.
If you’re looking to challenge what you think you may understand about the world, DarkMatter’s poetry is necessary for your arsenal. Check out darkmatterpoetry.com to read their blogs, watch their performances, and purchase their chapbook.