WeSLAM Storms Slam Invitational in California
From April 17 to the 22, Wesleyan’s slam poetry team got the chance to travel out to California and compete at the College Union Poetry Slam Invitational (CUPSI). They placed 16th out of the 48 teams taking part and took awards for Best Writing By a Team, Best Group Piece for the poem “Not About Him” by Emily Weitzman ’14 and Solomon Billinkoff ’14, and Best Funny Poem for “Couch,” also by Weitzman.
Awards and rankings were far from the most important takeaway for members of the team. For example, Ismael “Izzy” Coleman ’15 was not even able to make the trip, but still contributed hugely to the team throughout the year.
Of gatherings like CUPSI, Weitzman said, “[They] are not about winning, but about having the opportunity to share our work.” This is especially true for WeSLAM, given how short the team has been around.
“We have really made a name for ourselves after only two years of existence,” Weitzman said.
Both team coach Josh Smith ’11 and team member Nate Mondschein ’12 noted that they were specifically proud of how the team has improved their writing over the season, culminating in the Best Writing By a Team award.
“At the end of last semester, we had a team dinner to discuss goals for the season, to get a better sense of what everyone was hoping to achieve,” Mondschein said. “The main thing that came up, fairly unanimously, was that everyone wanted to really push our writing forward. Our work over the semester definitely prioritized that as an objective, and having it pay off by receiving the award...In my mind, it was a pretty direct product of the hard work we had put in all season.”
All of the team members also mentioned specifically how vibrant the Slam Poetry community is, and how incredible it was to be so surrounded by that community while out in California.
“We definitely do this because of the people,” Weitzman said. “I’ve met some of the most incredible people from being a part of the college slam scene. At CUPSI, there are just poets everywhere. Imagine that. Everywhere you turn: a poet. We formed a lot of intense connections with people.”
Furthermore, being surrounded by poets leads to a lot of discussion on social issues.
As Evan Okun ’13 wrote in an email to The Argus, “At the competition, I personally (along with some other Wes kids) got to spend a lot of time with the Stanford Slam Team. The last night we stayed up until 5 a.m. talking with a member of their team about what was flawed in the Poetry Slam community. The main issue we discussed was the lack of social action among participants at the competition, made all the more ironic by the barrage of poems about inequality.”
Still, the trip was not without its own drama for WeSLAM and the rest of the teams at CUPSI. Billinkoff related an amusing anecdote of college kids getting themselves in trouble:
“On the day we were to switch hotels, the Doubletree asked all CUPSI participants to leave the hotel due to an overwhelming number of noise complaints that had been filed against us over the course of the week.”
However, Billinkoff continued, “The Wesleyan community can rest assured that WeSLAM conducted itself with the utmost respect for the institutions which it frequented and was in no way responsible for any actions that might have been taken against the poets at large.”
But of course, they had their moments of being loud.
“The best part of this trip was being on the bus between the hotel and the university and listening/participating in the cyphers [freestyle rap bouts],” Billinkoff said. “Those short trips just became hotboxes of freestyle rap, whether we were expecting it or not.”