Ever since he transferred to Wesleyan from University of Michigan his sophomore year, Mike Rosen ’11 has been making up for lost time. The self-proclaimed “3-D poet” sat down with The Argus to talk about his love of writing, Wesleyan, and his upcoming slam poetry series.
The Wesleyan Argus: So Mike, word has it that you’re a slam poet. But if you don’t mind me asking, what exactly is slam poetry?
Mike Rosen: The spoken word is an accepting, powerful mode of expression. Slam poetry is a way to take back poetry as a mode of communication for everyone, not just people with PhDs—Homer, for example, was a slam poet. It’s a loose term, and technically there is no distinct definition, but slam poets tend to have similar styles. I get asked all the time, if it has to rhyme or be about a certain topic, and the answer is no. It can be lighthearted or serious—both can get a standing ovation.
A: How long have you been interested in spoken poetry?
MR: I didn’t do anything with it until I got here. Both my parents are writers, and I’ve always been writing, but I never took it past the privacy of my own home until I got here.
A: What changed for you and your writing when you transferred to Wesleyan?
MR: Sophomore year I wrote a poem, which I called “Of Dreams and Women,” and performed it in front of a crowd at Eclectic. It was a lot of fun, all about a teenage boy who wanted to be something in life, and maybe fall in love too. I wrote it the day I performed. I was so nervous, but I made people laugh, which made me think this was something I could do.
A: Where did you go from there?
MR: I kept writing, knowing that there were venues to share poetry, which is why I started my arts and music blog, The New Confusion, before coming to Wesleyan. It stands for hipster music or gangster rap. The idea is that it stands for everything. I’d love to write about bands that are not alternative hip hop, but that’s what I know, so people write about hip hop, poetry, opinion pieces, videos. The idea was to create a “new confusion” that was enjoyable, but not overwhelming. Ideally, it’s a platform for my friends to get the recognition they deserve. I don’t hold any illusions that if it is on my blog, everyone will hear about it, but I have a lot of friends doing really cool things that everyone should know about.
A: You call yourself a “3-D” poet, but what do you mean by three-dimensional?
MR: I do “3D poetry.” I took a class in Boulder, Colo. on sound poetry, and my teacher identified herself as a 3D poet. It was the most intangibly productive week of my life. 3-D poetry takes its shape in presentations of performance. It’s always written, but it’s meant to exist in three dimensions, not just as it is written and understood on paper.
A: Is there a common thread or subject that runs throughout your poetry and creative writing?
MR: One informs the other—my poems carry a narrative. I make a lot of New York references, since that’s where I’m from. I’ve also realized that every poem has rain and a shade of grey [laughs]. I’m not entirely sure why this is.
A: Last week’s WesCeleb, Davy Knittle ’11, mentioned you’re starting a slam poetry team on campus?
MR: There is an assortment of poetry events at Wesleyan, all usually tied with a special interest, like Fem Net or African American history. It’s great because poetry can speak to individual experiences. What I’m trying to do is create a central space for poetry through a slam poetry series, as well as a slam poetry team. I’m hoping to plan one slam event a month, with the first portion of the night as an open mike for Wes students, especially those new to slam. We’re also going to feature professional slam poets, but it’s important to me that one section is open to everyone. Then we’ll narrow it down to five who score best, and that team will compete at regionals.
A: Have you ever competed?
MR: I competed for the first time this summer. I didn’t win, but I got in touch with a lot of cool poets. My crowning moment was when I lost to a girl who was on Deaf Poetry Jam, and even she didn’t win. If you go in, wanting to win and compete, you’re there for the wrong reasons. I dislike the performance element, because people try to appeal to the crowd. There’s a great saying, “The best poets always lose.” I will never write for a crowd, but it’s a catch-22—what makes slam poetry great also brings it down to its lowest common denominator.
A: How has the Wesleyan arts community informed your writing?
MR: Wes is a place where people go to performances, and are genuinely interested in what other students are working on. Are we getting 100 percent support at football games? No. But the athletic teams and arts community really support each other. At the end of the day, this is just a really interesting place, and people are really passionate about what they do.
A: As a senior, I’m starting to dread this question, but any idea where you’re headed after Wesleyan?
MR: I would love it to involve writing, and continue to be surrounded by people who inspire me to write. I’ve only had three years here, and I don’t regret it, because I wouldn’t have ended up here, but I’ve tried to make up for lost time, and seize on the idea that this is a place where you can do what you’re passionate about. I came here, and I still don’t know what I want to do, and Wesleyan is a place where that is really O.K. with that. You can’t find a more welcoming place.