Original poetry, full audience make poetry slam a success

By Shasta Webb

Last Friday night I made my way up the seemingly endless stairs to the fourth floor of Old Main to witness my first-ever poetry slam. I was shocked to see the lounge packed with people, some even spilling out into the hall. I was a bit surprised at all the different faces I saw: athletes still in workout clothes, party-goers dressed in stylish jeans and accessories and students who looked weary from studying sat all together. After finally finding a seat (on top of a coffee table), my friends and I settled in for what would turn out to be quite the poetic adventure. The host, Daniel Picus ’10, spent the first few minutes explaining the rules of the Mac Poetry Slam. Nine poets would compete in two rounds for the high score, which were to be determined by five randomly selected audience members equipped with mini-white boards.

To start off the actual performances, Picus introduced special guest Wonder Dave, a Twin Cities slam phenomenon, who delivered a compelling poem about figuring out what is sexy in this world. In one single line, Wonder Dave silenced the crowd. He stunned a giggling crowd with words about Darfur, reminding everyone that problems still exist, despite our country’s obsession with trends and looks. I began to feel as though poetry slams were much more than simple poetry performances; these poems and performers stood for much more than words on a page and wanted more than just audience approval. They wanted to say something.

The first of the student poems was incredibly short, and simply conveyed the message that the poet, a senior named Joe, wanted to be Jim Morrison, not the young, hot Jim Morrison, but the old fat Jim Morrison. The next poet, whose slam name is Sparrow, delivered a poem about computer fonts while the next performer told an alternate tale of David and Goliath. Other notable poems from the first round included a rather sensual piece about a 1995 Ford Explorer. One performer talked about his nervous behavior, which ranged from hiding under benches to blurting offensive cuss words. A different student wrote her poem in the form of a letter addressed to a superhero while another poet talked of quantum physics taking place in a cup of tea.

One particularly interesting performer took the stage and spoke passionately about an epidemic of ignorance that is sweeping the nation. The poem was written and performed by Spencer Robinson ’13, who is a football player as well as a poet.

I spoke with Robinson after the slam. He explained this was not his first time performing poetry, but it was his first slam with an audience consisting of people he did not know. He was admittedly very nervous, but plans to perform again. I asked about the subject matter of his poem.

“The ignorance poem was mainly inspired by people in my town, which is over 99 percent white. It’s a very rural area and people are very intolerant,” Robinson said. “I felt like the people in my town needed to understand that tolerance is a very good thing and that ignorance is something we need to get rid of.”

Robinson plans to write more poetry, with sports likely to be the central theme. He explained that his passion for poetry and for football overlap because the same feelings that drive him to write, motivate him to play well.

Though Robinson was not one of the top three highest scorers, his poetry was greatly appreciated. He was more nervous about the skill-level of some of the other poets than the audience’s opinion. We can’t blame him though-Mac has certainly produced some up-and-coming writers.

The winner for the evening was Katie Willingham ’11, who wrote the Ford Explorer poem, as well as one about the Earth and its changes. With an incredibly smooth, flowing style, she easily won the audience over.

You can go to poetry slams almost weekly if you venture out into the Twin Cities (visit www.slammn.org for info), but if you don’t want to make the trek, Mac Slams will be hosting monthly poetry slams. Due to great student interest, future slams will take place in 10K.

“A lot of college campuses have regular slams or at least open mics,” Dylan Garity ’11, “There seemed to be a lot of interest at Macalester so we started the slam.