From her childhood aspirations of becoming a rapper to participating in speech and debate in high school, Francine Tamakloe, a fourth-year marketing and entrepreneurship student, has always been expressing herself through words.
It was when she was introduced to a TV show called "Brave New Voices" in early high school where she discovered the world of spoken-word poetry and soon began performing recitations of people’s works.
In her first year at USC, Tamakloe performed her first self-written poem about domestic violence in front of a packed Russell House Ballroom at the 2012 Fashion Defined fashion show.
“That was a very interesting first try," Tamakloe says. "Most people, when they first do spoken word, warm up by going to an open mike first; I just threw myself out there.”
She continued to actively pursue poetry throughout her first year of college, participating in Carolina Production's poetry slams and open mic nights. Tamakloe noticed there was no student organization dedicated solely to poetry. So, she started her own.
In fall 2013, First Word Epiphany, a collective of student poets, was formed.
“Poetry is definitely something in which you find a lot of community," she says. "Poetry slams can get really competitive, but I can’t say that there’s anything but love in the room."
The members of First Word Epiphany are brought together by poetry, despite their many differences.
“We are a very tight-knit group, but we are all very different. I don’t know if outside of poetry most of us would have been together the way we are now,” Tamakloe says.
To Tamakloe, one of the most rewarding experiences of running a spoken word poetry group is seeing its members develop. Many members had never performed their poetry before, but now engage in showcases at Russell House and special event performances.
“As much as I love to do poetry, I think my real ability lies in creating a group and developing that talent," Tamakloe says. "I’m proud of my own work, but the growth I’ve seen in the members of First Word Epiphany way surpasses that.”