By Emily Green
When we think of poetry reading, we might visualize a coffee shop with cozy couches, people drinking cappuccinos, relaxing while listening to someone read a poem in a soothing voice. We can keep the coffee and the couches, but when you go see the MSU Slam Poetry Team perform, you might as well throw that tranquil, quiet notion out the window because they are anything but. Slam poetry are poems meant to be performed for a live audience in a competitive format.
“Slam Poetry is part spoken word, part rap without the music, part theater – and all soul… It’s basically poetry on steroids,” said Professor Rose Cooper, the MSU Slam Poetry Team advisor.
A Poetry Slam is essentially an informal gathering of friends sharing their talents and the art of poetry with one another. However, when the first person stands up to perform, the mood shifts from socializing to a more serious tone and the performer takes center stage. The audience sits inclined slightly forward in their seats, listening intently to the story that is being written in the air through words, snapping their fingers with approval.
MSU’s slam team started in late 2007 and by early 2008 it consisted of only four members. By the next year, however, membership had more than doubled in size. Today the team consists of about 20 dedicated members.
“The slam team to me is the ability to step back from the week, take a break and focus on what I want to do. Writing is a big part of my life and no matter what I end up doing I will always love writing,” said creative writing and RCAH junior Austin Gorsuch, president of the Slam Team. It seemed to me that all the members of the team felt the same way Gorsuch did; they became and stayed a part of the team because they loved writing and each other.
The team members all knew each other by name, and said they had developed friendships outside of the club.
“I have made good friends here, people that I can go and talk to outside of the meetings for advice and help,” said English senior Briana Walz.
“One of my favorite parts about the team is that is keeps me writing, and one of the worst things for a writer is to stop writing,” said James Madison sophomore Nicole Stancil.
Team members keep each other writing or thinking in the mindset of a poetry writer through various methods; for example, by playing a silly game or actually taking the time to write a new poem during the meeting. Whatever it is they might be doing, they do with a purpose.
“I joined because I saw a slam poet perform and I knew that’s what I wanted to do, I wanted to move people,” Stancil said.
Walz added, “I love the slam aspect of slam poetry it’s serious, but also fun I get absorbed into it.”
These two members of the team said they really enjoy the atmosphere of actual slams. They like performing as well as just watching others perform in slams. To them it is about the content and purpose of the poetry.
“I think the MSU Slam Poetry Team provides a voice of Spartan pride. Our members are often called upon by MSU officials to represent State in spoken word at various events,” Cooper said.
Opportunities like these are essential to the team to show off their skills. It also shows that they must be good at what they do to be asked to represent MSU at events.
There is no other team like them on campus and it is a unique and beneficial experience to be a part of, “not only for aspiring poets, but for any person at MSU who would like to learn how to effectively express themselves verbally,” Cooper said.
This is true at the meetings where the team works on writing skills as well as the ability to speak comfortably in front of a group of people. The poetry slam team is about more than just the slams. It is an outlet for creativity and a place to gain skills in poetry and public speaking. If you want to find out for yourself, the team is open to all members and accepts anyone who wants to join.
“If you are interested in prose, poetry, public speaking, or just want to come listen, we are always looking for new people,” Gorsuch said.
I had the pleasure of seeing the MSU Slam Poetry Team perform at their Halloween Slam on October 26. It sure was a treat, and I didn’t even have to parade around in a costume screaming “trick or treat” to experience it.
Here are the rules to a poetry slam:
As many of the members that wish to perform are welcome to. Before they begin performing, the team must find five judges to judge the poets on their performance. After the poem is over, the judges hold up the scores – the lowest and highest score for each person are dropped, then the remaining three are added together to form the final score for that round. After everyone has performed, the top four performers move onto the second round, and the highest score from that round wins.
This slam, however, had a little bit of twist. In honor of Halloween, during the first round all of the competitors were required to write a poem based on their costume, followed by a free-for-all second round. There was a dinosaur, Pocahontas, a rock climber and a grandma in attendance, to name a few of the costumes.
In the second round, there was a tie between competitors Inez Garzaniti and Robbie Craemer. To settle the tie, the two poets had to battle it out at Wanderer’s Teahouse and Café’s open mic night. The winner of the tie-breaker and the Halloween Slam was Robbie Craemer.
The team meets every Wednesday at 7 p.m. in the Bessey Hall Writing Center if you want to check them out, or like them on Facebook at MSU Slam Poetry Team.