Viet Mai
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Viet Mai

San Diego, California, United States | Established. Jan 01, 2005

San Diego, California, United States
Established on Jan, 2005
Solo Spoken Word



The best kept secret in music


"Site Seen: Elevated"

Written by: edward

A small stage in front of the room is brightly lit, but the rest of the room remains dark. As people filter in and take their seats, there is an electric anticipation as the audience awaits a night of poetry and music. As the DJ spins a record and hip-hop beats flow out of the speakers, Elevated begins.

Put together by Collective Purpose, a group of performance artists, the open-mic event dubbed “Elevated” invites local poets, musicians and other performance artists to the stage to share their creative talent. The event brings together an eclectic mix of artists from all over California where both veteran and first-time performers sign up for four minutes on stage. Whether they are performing a song or a poem, those who take the stage provoke the audience to think. One singer from Tijuana sings “Clandestino,” a song addressing the way the United States government refers to undocumented immigrants. Viet Mai, a member of Collective Purpose, screams out the word “free” as part of his piece. Another poet, who nervously introduces herself as a first-time performer, speaks about beauty and negative perceptions of women.

Elevated also features more well-known poets, from Talaam Acey, one of the first to develop the art of spoken word, to Besskepp, a poet from Los Angeles.

The event only started last fall but has already drawn a loyal crowd. It begins at 8 p.m. the first and third Thursdays every month, but the venue quickly fills up and people are forced to crowd around in the back of the room. Both novice and master poets alike can be sure to find an engaging audience who will holler and cheer them on.

Elevated is held at the Arts and Entertainment Center in North Park and costs $5 at the door. - The Guardian, University of California, San Diego

"The Jacobs Center celebrates rites of passage with art gallery and spoken word"

On Thursday, Sep. 13, the Jacobs Center For Neighborhood Innovation held a night of spoken word performances, featuring several local poets and former slam team members. Free admission gave audience members the opportunity to hear stories based on the theme “Rites of Passage” in honor of the current art exhibit of the same name.

Poet Danielle Fontana opened the show with a heartwarming, yet comical poem about what it means to be Italian. As she held the fingertips of one hand together, repeating, “Gaalic, gaalic, gaalic,” it was evident that Italian pride ran through her.

Poet Grace Aumoeualogo shared what it meant for her to be a Samoan woman who did not grow up in Samoan culture and poet-musician Kendrick Dial used live band accompaniment to urge everyone in attendance to “Wake up and put this focus in your cup.”

Having driven three hours to share her words, poet and counselor Treesje Powers dedicated her final poem to all of the students in the room and poet-educator Viet Mai took the opportunity to share his passion for education and community between poems. An added treat for San Diego Mesa College students who are taking a course with Professor Starla Lewis and Professor Thekima D. Mayasa was that they could receive course credit for attending the performance.

In keeping with the theme of “Rites of Passage”, poet Rudy Francisco closed the night with “My Honesty Poem”: a piece that takes a hard look at the positive and negative aspects of a human life. It was a complimentary way to share a bit of personal while inspiring the listener to consider his or her own life.

Hosting for the night was poet-deejay-open mic host Gill SOTU, who kept performance transitions flowing smoothly with comedy and energy.

The night closed with Program Manager for Civic and Cultural Engagement Sherehe Hollins thanking everyone for attending and making the announcement that this would be her last time coordinating a show for the Jacobs Center. With that, everyone was free to explore the art exhibit, which was beautiful and engaging, showcasing various stages of rites of passages for different cultures. -

"San Diego Slam Team on to Boston"

The streets of Oceanside are narrow and bright. It’s eight o clock on Thursday night; students and nine to fivers are exiting bars and cafes as happy hours are coming to an end. But the night had only begun; there is poetry happening. Not far from the intended destination, an illuminate festival leads directly to the quiet ocean. The scenery alone is poetic. A few yards from the fair, Glassless Minds is hosting their weekly open mic event featuring the San Diego Slam Team.

Coached by Elevated’s Christopher Wilson, the San Diego Slam Team is in attendance to give one final performance and to acquire their last team member before their anticipated competition in Boston. After a full show of comics, poets and singers, a slam took place between two spoken word artists, Sherwin Ginez and Viet Mai, for the final spot on the team.. Both gave phenomenal performances, however Viet Mai was the victor.

Mai will now join the rest of the San Diego Slam Team for the 2013 National Poetry Slam in Boston. The team features Ant Black (Anthony Blacksher), Joe Limer, Karla Cordero, and Ronal Preston Clark.

San Diego is one of three California based teams competing in a line up total of 71 teams from all over the country. “No one is really looking at us, so that works in our favor,” say’s Limer. “We feel like we’re peaking, so we’re starting to feel satisfaction and confident in our pieces.

Five random volunteers are selected judge poetry slams. Competitors are never sure of what to expect when they enter the stage. All they can do is perform their best within a three-minute frame in hopes of getting a high score. “When you’re on stage you have to become the words, become the poem,” says Cordero. “If you’re acting, the audience can tell”.

Jordan Hamilton, also a poet, is an avid fan of and supporter of the San Diego team. “Separately they are all really strong poets. I actually look up to them, especially Viet Mai, he’s kind of legend here.” After their fifth member left the slam team for an abroad career opportunity, the team was in need of a replacement. Luckily, Mai is no rookie to poetry competitions. “I’m comfortable with many of my pieces and I feel like some of my pieces are unique enough to stand out,” said Mai.

With the addition of a last minute experienced member, the team has high hopes that the Mai will be a good fit to the group. As poetry slams are highly competitive, preparation can be a challenging process. San Diego has been rehearsing and prepping for months. “Slam is very intense in terms of developing a creative and artistic way of developing poetry that most great writers can be challenged by,” said Black. “It’s not a natural thing, its very entertainment based.

Black, who is also a veteran slammer, has served as a mentor to the other team members. As the team is composed of members who all have different slam experience, it was necessary to bring all of the poets to the same uniformity. “One of the first things you learn in slam is how to be vulnerable in front of total strangers. We’re learning how to be vulnerable with each other,” said Limer. “We’ve grown in terms of building chemistry, as writers, performers and as individuals,” said Cordero. The team has quite a reputation to carry on their shoulders. San Diego has been ranked in the top 15 slam teams in the country multiple occasions.

“The San Diego team is a legend in Boston, so if San Diego is slamming you’re scared,” said Hamilton.

The team will be in Boston for a week for the competition and a poetry conference featuring open mics, panels, group discussions and more. It’s an opportunity to network and observe some of their competition.

However, hopefully the San Diego Slam Team proves to be the ultimate competitor.

They are scheduled for “bouts” on Tuesday the 13th and Thursday the 15th . If victorious, they move on to the Semi Finals on Friday the 16th and hopefully on to finals that Saturday.

“When people see our name on bout list they know they’re in for a fight,” said Clark. “That is the legacy we’re trying to continue”.

As the night ended the poets and audience conversed amongst each other; giving congrats, good lucks and best wishes. Best wishes to the Elevated San Diego Slam Team. - San Diego Voice & Viewpoint

"Grab the mic, get Elevated"

Collective Purpose and their venue "Elevated" –
Grab the mic, get Elevated
Spoken-word event finds a home and builds a community
By Michael Klam
It's more like a performance-art revival than a poetry event. Music. Always music, the DJ using beats to carry the audience from poet to poet. The host, like a beloved minister, has his room at “Hello,” and when the first poet takes the stage, there is an audience awakening. The poet grips the mic and breaks a momentary thread of silence with a question: “How are you all feeling tonight?” The audience responds in harmony: “Elevated!”

Elevated, the combination open-mic night with featured special-guest readings, is just one of the spoken-word events that have started since R. Spot Books on University Avenue closed last year. Hosted by Collective Purpose, a motley young bunch of spoken-word artists who think live performance is part and parcel of poetry, the event was born out of the necessity to unify a community of writers and poets left without a home. The collective crew came together and went looking for a space to perform.

They found what they were looking for at the Arts & Entertainment Center on University Avenue in North Park, a multipurpose community center with a gallery in front, a performance space in back and a powerful mural coloring the outside wall facing the alley. On Thursday nights, people cram into the back of the center to see the poets perform-the crowds have become big enough for the collective to switch Elevated from a bimonthly to a weekly event.

Last month, Collective Purpose celebrated Elevated's one-year anniversary-more than 300 fans lined up to see invited guest, Talaam Acey, a National Poetry Slam champion. But many in the crowd came to share in the collective's successes as a local arts-collaborative force and community builder. So what's the secret? How does Collective Purpose get hundreds of people to a poetry show on a Thursday night?

“We decided to pool our talents and our resources,” says Christopher Wilson, who acts as the group's manager. Collective Purpose has a core crew of seven people that includes some of San Diego's most well-known poets: Anthony Blacksher (aka Ant Black), Eugene Albert III (aka The Passionate Poet), Kendrick Dial (aka Conscious), Rudy Francisco, Viet Mai, tai li la mumba mugambee and Wilson.

The collective is a tight-knit group. Their collaboration and support for one another is apparent to the Elevated crowd, and that translates into the audience's willingness to join in and participate in the performances. The poet hosts are skilled at eliciting reaction; from the start of every event, they make it known that Elevated is not a quiet poetry reading. The audience is encouraged to jump in and engage the performers and each other, sometimes through laughter and applause, other times through dialogue or even heated debates after the shows.

“Usually 20 to 30 percent of the audience stays afterward to talk about what was said, how it affected them,” says Francisco. “We are a forum for free speech. People are going to have different opinions on what is said during course of the night.”

“And if someone has a differing opinion,” adds Wilson, “they are welcome to get up on stage during the show and respond.”

The collective uses the example of Cecil Hayduke, the host of the San Diego Poetry Slam. The collective says Hayduke took a few shots at their unabashed Christianity-a common, but not overriding, theme on the Elevated stage-during one of his visits to the event.

Collective Purpose took Hayduke's rant in stride, and the two separate events and hosts have come to share audiences. They've even started working together; there's an upcoming Elevated poetry slam in the works as a fundraiser and promotional event for creating a new San Diego national slam team. Chances are a few members of Collective Purpose will make the team if it comes to fruition.

While Elevated is a free-speech event, the group prefers to keep it clean. “We want to make sure it's tasteful,” explains Francisco. “But it has to be over the top for us to censor.”

“It's a matter of truly offering something to the crowd versus pulling something out of your ass,” adds Dial. “Shocking people without a purpose-we don't want it.”

Wilson affirms that they don't want to censor anybody, but if things get out of hand, they will turn off the mic. “We had guy who did racist jokes,” he says. “We shut him down. Even though the mic is open, we have a duty to make sure that type of thing is not represented in our space: homophobia, racism against blacks, Latinos.”

The seven members of Collective Purpose say they are learning how to manage and grow the event as they go. They have become their own harshest and helpful critics.

“We are family,” says Dial. “I'm constantly learning from everybody. We give honest feedback so we are able to see growth in ourselves and others.”

“Everyone is openly critical of each other,” adds Viet Mai, the newest addition to the collective, “but all out of love and growth. It's not a harmful criticism. To have that is very important, especially if we're all trying to progress. Something that I always wanted was that collaborative spirit.”

“We stand together, united. It's powerful,” agrees Blacksher, who's featured in an upcoming KPBS documentary called Poetry Live(s) by San Diego State University professor Mark Freeman. Blacksher says the strength of Elevated is evident in the number of A-list performers willing to come from out of town and take the stage. “We're getting talked up in D.C., New York, all around the nation.” - San Diego City Beat


Still working on that hot first release.



Viet Mai is an Educator, Artist and Consultant who works to enhance the lives of others through community engagement and youth empowerment. As a member of the 2013 ELEVATED! Slam Team, Viet represented San Diego to rank 4th place at the National Poetry Slam in Boston/Cambridge/Sommerville, MA.

Born and raised in San Diego, CA by a single mother and two older brothers, he learned early on how to entertain himself using creativity and imagination to make sense of out of his surroundings. As a youth, Viet was interested in how the world worked--from the toys that he dismantled, to the insects in his backyard. Since then he has studied how the world works through observing people, culture, economics, and education.

Viet began exploring his creativity by writing poetry while a student at the University of California in San Diego. With influences from Ethnic Studies and Music classes, as well as lyrics from Hip Hop artists, Viet focuses his writing and performing towards education, community development, self reflection, and empowerment.

Also known as vKnowledge, Viet began performing spoken word around San Diego in 2001 at open mics. As his talent and creativity bloomed, he was sought after as a featured poet at many events and venues in Southern California and has appeared in venues across America. In an effort to inspire others through art and culture, Viet is a co-host and organizer of San Diego's largest Spoken Word event, ELEVATED! 

Ultimately, Viet's mission is to collaborate with community members to educate, motivate, and inspire the youth through spoken word, art, and culture. He has facilitated numerous workshops with various organizations and youth programs. After obtaining his BA in Math-Computer Science from UCSD, Viet currently serves as a Program Facilitator with the Village of Promise Collective Mentoring Program, and as an Independent Consultant, specializing in School Data and Assessment. Furthermore, he devoutly continues to edutain his audience as a member of Collective Purpose.

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