Mac takes on National Slam Championships

After gaining internet fame with their slam poems “OCD” and “Friend Zone,” Macalester alumni Neil Hilborn ’11 and Dylan Garity ’12 returned to their popular pieces at last month’s National Poetry Slam in Boston, Mass. Competing alongside current Macalester students Rachel Rostad ’15 and Renee Schminkey ’16 on the Minneapolis-based team, SlamMN, Hilborn and Garity drew rave reviews in leading SlamMN through the semi-finals and a 9th place national finish.

The high-profile tournament featured teams from places including Baton Rouge, La., Honolulu, Hawaii, Omaha, Neb. and Portland, Maine. With a high concentration of talented slam poets at the championships, advancement to the final round proved quite a challenge.

While Hilborn and Garity are now name brands in the creative world, it was not long ago that they got their start in the field. Garity picked up slam poetry the summer before arriving at Macalester. With aspirations of continuing, he and Hilborn created MacSlams in 2009. Boosted by the coaching of several talented slam poets and long hours of workshopping and practice, the MacSlams team advanced to the CUPSI (College Unions Poetry Slam Invitational) finals in 2010. They placed third that year and followed that performance by winning the tournament in 2011. In Garity’s senior year, the team took runner-up honors as he was named Best Poet. Last spring, the team placed 27th. Garity attributed much of his current success to the experience he gained at Macalester.

“Between the slam, the workshops associated with the slam, creative writing classes, going to Nationals, seeing shows around the Cities and around the country over the four years, I don’t think I can describe the way that my poetry, performance, and broader writing, and more importantly, my understanding of each, have changed,” he wrote in an email. “The community at Macalester has been invaluable to my growth as an artist and writer.”

This year’s competition was marked with an intense energy that picked up as the week progressed. On Finals night, a sellout crowd of more than 1,000 packed into the Berklee Performance Center. The crowd was full of longtime slam devotees, some of the top competitors from the earlier rounds and a handful of newcomers to the sport. As a reflection of the eclectic nature of the community, the audience and performers wore unique outfits ranging from classy 1920s to cultural garments. The anxious audience chit-chatted as if they were at a family reunion.

As a precursor to the final bouts, 2012 slam winner Ed Mabrey brought the house to a roar with his poem, “Katy Perry, President 2013,” in which he listed the reasons why every audience member should vote the pop star into the White House. “Katy Perry in concerts likes to wear a giant cupcake on her head as a hat,” Mabrey said. “You know who likes cupcakes? I do! You do! You know who hates cupcakes? Terrorists! Katy Perry likes to have sexy black female dancers with her on stage. I too would like to have sexy black female dancers with me on stage! She’s obviously in touch with the voice of Black America. Katy Perry asked, ‘Have you ever felt buried six feet deep?’ She has a plan to get us out of debt!”

While Mabrey’s slam drew perpetual laughter from the crowd, the night was also full of a number of sobering escapades on the wrongs of society. The night’s repertoire included poems on sexual objectification, waterboarding, gender identity, stop-and-frisk, racism and the website “Fuck My Life.” Slam New Orleans took home the winner’s trophy, but as the night concluded, there was a feeling of companionship and togetherness among both the competitors and the crowd, reducing the results to limited importance.

Garity raved about the event and his teammates, saying it was “some of the most fun I’ve ever had working with a group of writers.”

He encouraged the Macalester community to attend this year’s Macalester Slams, with the first on Sep. 19. If tradition is to be continued, the audience will be in store for a treat.