Personal stories, wild performances, and energetic fun: all three filled the air late Wednesday night. The venue was WestCo Café, the event was WeSLAM’s first poetry slam of the year, and it was a riotous, cheerful evening.
Mike Rosen ’11, the extremely capable MC of the night, strode onstage to warm up the audience to the accompaniment of Twisted Sister’s We’re Not Gonna Take It. An open and engaging host, he explained the rules with tact and verve: all the poets would come up to the microphone and recite one original poem no longer than three minutes and twenty seconds. Rosen would then call for the judges’ scores, and the five judges—randomly selected members of the audience—would hold up a score from zero to ten. The highest and lowest scores would be discarded, and the remainder would be totaled for the final score. Audience participation and reaction to the judges was not just allowed, but encouraged.
“[The slam is] a friendly competition among poets,” Rosen told the crowd, adding to the poets, “Please leave your egos at the door…the point tonight is not the point. The point is poetry.”
He added, as a final comment, “This is not the John Ashbury reading at the Chapel. This is slam poetry. Shit gets real.”
It was a night full of surprises. In typical Wesleyan fashion, the first of two “sacrificial poems” designed to warm up the audience was a widely appreciated piece entitled “How to Bullshit a Calculus Project” by Solomon Billinkoff ’14. The second—one of the most moving and beautiful pieces of the evening—was an offering by guest Evan Knoll (currently a high school sophomore). The piece about the separation between him and his parents deserved every one-tenth-point of the 29.1 (out of 30) it received.
I can honestly say that I’ve rarely heard so much good poetry—particularly by young, amateur poets—in one place before. Every offering was well above average. Some of my favorites were the surprising and the bizarre. Late in the evening Emily Brown ’12 presented a visceral, obscene, and even violent sexual poem that was completely belied by her polka-dotted dress and almost demure appearance. Sadly, most of Brown’s poem is unprintable by newspaper standards. Another favorite was Adam Bresgi ’14, who with an almost frenetic performance gave thanks to an unknown someone for teaching him how to cry, since it had been “ten years since my feelings had bled through my eyes” and “tears are the Windex of the soul.” Although the poem’s emotion was nearly palpable, there was also a lot of humor in it, including several references to Disney’s The Lion King.
More traditional poetry was also present: Jesse Greenblatt ’12 gave us a work called “Jungle Fever” that was appropriately sexy and sultry, though laced with some of the mournful, haunting images of conflict that always taint our ideas of sex. Morgan Hill ’14 began by speaking about poets, saying “[they] seek to make my body out of words,” before launching into a poetic tirade against all sorts of attempts to conquer her body. Some of the geographic metaphors she used—scaling mountains, et cetera—were time-honored pieces, but she managed to present them in a new and vivid way.
In the end, sadly, only five could move on. After a second round as a tiebreaker, Hill is one of the ones continuing. She is joined by Randyl Wilkerson ’12, whose poem was both lyrical and, in fact, musical; Evan Okun ’13, who rather impressively composed an entire poem about cans; Josh Smith ’11, who wrote an incredibly tender piece called “For the Girls I Have Fallen in Love with on the New York City Subway and Never Seen Again;” and Nate Mondschein ’12, whose “Letter to a Broken Patriarch” was addressed to his grandfather, an immigrant to the United States. These five will be joined by the winners of two other slams—the next of which is on Nov. 4—at a final slam on Dec. 3 in Beckham Hall.
The ultimate goal of the new group is to form a poetry slam team to compete at the College Unions Poetry Slam Invitational (CUPSI) at the regional level and, hopefully, at the nationals at the University of Michigan in April. Whatever the fate of their loftier goals, though, the group has already made one significant contribution to the campus by centralizing and revitalizing the poetry scene on campus.
In an e-mail to the Argus, Rosen said, “[W]eSLAM is a group of students who are passionate about 3-D poetry—poetry that is meant to exist as much in person/space as it is on the page.”