My weekend was almost definitely doper than yours. While you were off exploring your awesome new thesis carrels, quietly sobbing on the main floor of Olin, dropping references to Professor Gil Skillman’s analysis of the need-blind sitch, or going to that sophomore cabaret thing in the ’92 because they made it sound so enticing in last Friday’s Argus, I was gettin’ my poetry on at the first of WeSlam’s preliminary qualifying slams this semester.
Those of you who aren’t familiar with slam poetry can try picturing T.S. Eliot and e.e. cummings with a little more 21st century swag and a lot more hand gestures. Put them in front of a fervently snapping audience, and you’ve got yourself a slam.
In 2010, founder Mike Rosen ’11 liberated the spoken word from the confines of a couple WestCo open mics and introduced it to the greater Wesleyan community.
“I wanted to bring all the poets together and celebrate poetry and diversity in one place,” said Rosen. “I’d been writing for years and never actually performed until I got here. I think that’s a testament to the environment this school provides.”
A number of students shared his enthusiasm.
“I saw Michael Rosen perform at a WestCo open mic, and I was like, ‘I don’t know what that is, but I want to do it,’” said poet Solomon Billinkoff ’14.
WeSlam has since become a performance staple on the Wesleyan campus, hosting workshops for interested writers, selecting a team of poets to compete in the annual College Unions Poetry Slam Invitational (CUPSI), and inviting poets to campus to feature at the qualifying slams. Since its inception, WeSlam has extended its influence to a growing contingent of artistically and otherwise-inclined students at Wes.
This expansion was all too evident in Saturday night’s turnout. This less-than-punctual writer rolled up to the CFA—World Music Hall around 7:40 p.m., just in time for my admittance to count as a fire hazard. Latecomers like myself had already queued up outside the building, and I was forced to resort to my expert command of bribery, sweet-talkin’, and sexual favors in order to weasel my way in.
On stage, feature poet Michael Lee was sippin’ on a Dasani and rocking a pair of New Balances as he bantered with the audience.
“I want to go to school with y’all,” he joked. “Y’all are so smart. The people I went to school with read Twilight.”
With natural stage presence, beautiful words, and passionate delivery, Lee went on to captivate the audience.
“I began slamming to share my stories and I’m sticking around to hear the stories of others,” Lee later told me. “I was given something through slam, and I want to help give it back.”
After warming the audience up, Lee handed the mic over to current co-president Evan Okun ’13 and emcee Adjua Pryor ’15, who kicked the evening into competition gear. WeSlam members bumping Biggie, Lauryn, and Kanye chilled on one side of the stage as a line of nervous competing poets fidgeted on the other, many of whom had workshopped their pieces with Lee earlier that day.
Pryor and Okun went through the requisite judge-hunting period, convincing five hesitant audience members to evaluate their peers’ deepest outpourings of emotion on a scale of 1 to 10. Billinkoff, the night’s “sacrificial poet,” began to showcase some of the most inspired wordsmithing this student body has to offer.
The rules are simple: two rounds, only four poets advance. Competitors battle using words and style as their weapons. No props, no promo, only poetry.
“The first poem has to be something you’ve never done at a collegiate slam before,” explained Coz Deicke ’15, one of the evening’s qualifying poets. “The top five of the final slam will be the slam team [at CUPSI].”
“No mic-dropping, no pussy-popping,” Pryor added.
WeSlam members are quick to emphasize the importance of fostering a supportive environment for writers to share their work rather than focusing on the competition. Declarations of “Fuck the score; let’s give it up for the poet!” rang out throughout the slams.
“A performer has three minutes to tell something to the audience,” explained Lee. “There has to be a certain level of accessibility to performance work that isn’t always necessary in page work.”
Amid fellow slammers’ shout-outs of “Don’t be nice!” and a few necessary references to Erykah Badu, Saturday’s participants presented work that was both hilarious and heartrending. From Deicke’s intricately innuendo-filled ode to the historically sexy William Shakespeare to sophomore Kara Wernick’s moving piece about sexual assault, each poet’s work was characteristically his or her own, a sincerity that kept almost half the audience through the second round (in fairness, that shit was long).
Ultimately, only four poets could advance. After an excruciatingly intense battle of “Rock, Paper, Scissors,” a final “slam-off” between two tied contestants settled the score. Deicke, Wernick, co-president Zach Goldberg ’13, and newcomer Markeisha Hill ’16 will advance to the Final Slam that will take place later this semester.
Based on this weekend’s display of student talent, the future of WeSlam looks bright. With the next preliminary scheduled for Oct. 20 and CUPSI already looming, the poets could care less how competitive the Wesleyan team will be next May.
“[It’s about] fucking up the rules and saying things that are important and representing who you are,” Rosen said. “People tell rooms of two hundred strangers stuff that they would never tell their parents, and that to me is the power and the beauty of this group.”
“People come to slams because they want a very real, very human connection,” added Lee. “There is a love in this community that I have not found anywhere else.”