The Cultural House reached a milestone this past week by holding its 20th annual poetry slam. Six students competed in the slam and were judged by the audience. The slam also showcased the talents of Bao Phi ’97, an accomplished spoken word artist and activist from the Twin Cities, and Anandi Somasundaram ’15, who performed while the votes were being tallied.
Phi was born in Vietnam but moved to the Phillips Neighborhood in South Minneapolis when he was very young. Phi attended Mac and was involved in the Asian Student Alliance (ASA). Phi also started performing at C-House Poetry Slams when the slams were just starting out. He emphasized that while the events were competitive, he really enjoyed the sense of community that the slams created. Phi has an impressive list of poetry-related accomplishments including being a two-time Minnesota Grand Slam champion, a National Poetry Slam finalist, performing on HBO’s Def Poetry, and having one of his poems chosen for the 2006 Best American Poetry anthology. He authored Sông I Sing, a critically acclaimed 2011 collection of poems.
Phi performed three new poems for the Mac community. The first poem focused on his young daughter and his fear that she will experience racism growing up, as he did. The second poem was about racial identity and growing up in the Twin Cities. His final poem was about becoming a respected figure in the community that he grew up in.
Anandi Somasundaram began performing spoken word at last year’s C-House Slam. This year, she performed a humorous satirical poem titled “Five Ways to Americanize Yourself,” which elicited many laughs from the audience. She also performed a poem that focused on the expectations of her immigrant parents, pressure to be financially successful in America and her decision to pursue an economics degree.
The six students competing in the slam were Alejandra Marin ’15, Amani Mekraz ’16, Anna Caroline Stuligross ’18, Ben Bartenstein ’16, Hannah Lair ’16 and Vivian Liu ’17. Marin and Mekraz were performing poetry in front of an audience for the first time and Bartenstein, who is trying to complete all of the Macalester website’s “102 Things to Do Before You Graduate,” said he had just started writing poetry the day before the event.
The first round of poems was very diverse. Marin’s poem centered around her love of coffee and the stress of counting calories. Mekraz’s was about a friend who you still love even though she does not understand what you’re going through. Stuligross’ involved gender and sexuality and the admiration she has for her sister. Bartenstein’s was a humorous piece on veganism. Lair’s was a love poem to the universe. Liu’s love poem, infused with animal symbolism, wished for a better relationship than what her family showed her.
The audience cast its votes and chose Mekraz, Stuligross and Liu to move on to the next round. Mekraz’s second poem was critical of society’s standards of beauty, especially with regard to weight. She asserted that her body was not political and thanked her body for all it allows her to do. Stuligross’ poem about leadership made the audience howl with laughter thanks to humorous anecdotes from the time she attended a leadership conference in the fifth grade to the time in high school when she wrote and directed a rap video for school. Finally, Liu’s poem involved how she wishes that she were bilingual so she could communicate with some of her relatives.
After the second round of votes was cast, it was announced that Stuligross came in first place, Liu came in second and Mekraz came in third.
The C-House Poetry Slam is clearly an environment where performers can feel free to express themselves honestly and to create many memorable moments for the audience, both humorous and poignant. This annual event is definitely one to check out next year.