MacSlams takes 2nd in national poetry competition

By Matea Wasend

For a team that celebrated its third birthday this semester, MacSlams has already bagged a lot of success. Take, for instance, the young poetry team’s second place finish at the national College Unions Poetry Slams Invitational (CUPSI) in La Verne, CA last weekend. It marks their third top-three finish at the competition in as many years, a CUPSI record. Or consider the “Best Individual Poet” title awarded to team captain Dylan Garity ’12, the very man who founded MacSlams in the spring of his freshman year. Or try the testimony of MacSlams poet Abbie Shain ’14, which embodies what is perhaps the ultimate achievement for any team: “I met all my goals to the point where I need to think up new goals.” By the accounts of Shain and fellow poet Anna Binkovitz ’14, this year was a triumphant success for MacSlams. The team went into the four-day nationals event in defense of last year’s first-place finish and came out on top in both preliminary rounds and the semi-finals, ultimately finishing second out of 48 teams from around the country. The invitational began with two nights of “four-by-four” competition–four teams competing against each other, with each team taking the stage four times with either individual or group pieces. “There’s a lot of strategy involved in a slam,” said Shain. “You have to figure out what would be the best poem to follow the last. Do you want to go loud? Do you want to go soft? That’s kind of a fun side of it.” MacSlams is unusual in the range and diversity of its poetry arsenal, Shain said, which helped them find “the right poems for the right moment.” That arsenal–and the team itself–was built and honed over the course of the school year, starting with Macalester’s qualifying slams in the fall. At a January “Grand Slam,” audience judges picked out the school’s top slam poets, who became the team that worked anywhere from seven to 25 hours a week on poetry and performance in preparation for the national competition. Thanks to high rankings from the prelim judges at CUPSI, Shain and her four fellows found their way into the 10-team semifinals on the third night of the competition, and then into the four-team finals on Saturday along with teams from Stanford, NYU and UC Berkeley. Over the course of the competition, Mac’s team faced off against many groups from larger schools like the University of Hawaii, University of North Carolina (Chapel Hill) and the host school, University of La Verne. MacSlams made CUPSI history when it snagged first place last year as the first-ever college team to beat out university poets in 11 years of the competition. This year’s second place finish–performed before an audience of over 1,000–overshot the team’s goal going into the competition, which Shain said was simply to make the final round for the third year running. Garity’s “Best Individual Poet” was icing on the unexpected cake. “It meant an incredible amount to me,” Garity wrote in an email. “I love the poets in the national community so much, and it’s really humbling getting that kind of reaction to my work.” But there was a lot more to take home from California than trophies, according to Shain and Binkovitz. There were the friendships (“It’s just amazing how quickly you meet people that love you because you’re doing this thing that they love,” said Binkovitz). There was the newfound confidence (“After you perform in front of that many people it’s hard not to be confident,” said Shain). And then there was the fame. Shain, whose performance of “Forgiveness” closed out the competition, said that one of the highlights was well-known slam poets posting lines from her poem on Facebook and Twitter after the event. Binkovitz, too, called seeing lines from her own poem reincarnated as someone’s Facebook status “really awesome.” “It’s been an amazing three years,” Garity wrote. “I can’t wait to see the rest of the team continue to make Macalester a major national name long into the future.” Shain will take the MacSlams helm next semester in light of Garity’s graduation. She already harbors “big plans” to diversify the on-campus slams by soliciting more Macalester voices and bringing in out-of-town poets. But by her own description, she and the team will likely be hard pressed to top the final moments of this year’s CUPSI. “The room had been full of these intense, harsh poems that were hard to hear because they were so real,” Shain said.

“Then I got to do my favorite poem, ‘Forgiveness’, which I’d been working on for a year. This was the seventeenth draft I’d performed. It was all about hope and something that’s right with the world and I was just so proud to get to do that.” “It’s beautiful to be in a room with more than a thousand people that care about and love poetry,” Shain added. Selected quotes from “Forgiveness” by Abbie Shain: “Forgiveness is not a mobile of pretty words” “Forgiveness is giving away what they already took” “Maybe love is an allowance to make mistakes/ Maybe forgiveness is an invitation to come back and come back until you are here and full” See the MacSlams poets perform at
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