At their first event as an official club, the Poetry and Spoken Word Club filled the ARC with students eager to share and hear poetry at the first “Spit It” night of the year. More than 50 students gathered on Monday, October 7 for a night of spoken word and slam poetry. Slam team tryouts were the highlight of the evening, followed by an open mic.
Seven students competed for a spot on the Slam Team and — after two rounds of competition judged by local poets and randomly selected students in the audience — the top five scorers were chosen to be team members: senior Haley Courtney; junior Keana McGrath; and sophomores Gia Cabarse, Connor Voss and Austin Sleeper.
“The whole purpose of the team is so that we can have a solid group to compete in the CUPSI (College Union Poetry Slam Invitation) tournament,” Cabarse said.
Slam poetry is the competitive aspect of performing spoken word. It started in 1984 in Chicago as a response to academia’s influence on poetry. For this reason, judges are non-academics and are chosen at random at the beginning of a slam and often know little or nothing about poetry. As a result of its roots in storytelling and rebellion, slam poetry contains hints of political activism.
“I’ve heard a lot of race poems and cultural poems,” Cabarse said.
Joe Limer, professor in the Political Science Department at Palomar College and local slam poet, coaches the team.
“When I found out that they had made it to regionals without a coach, [it] surprised me because most teams have coaches who are experienced in slam,” Limer said. “I was in search of a team, and they were in search of a coach, so it was a pretty good match.”
Junior Keana McGrath, president of the recently chartered Poetry and Spoken Word Club, and Cabarse met Limer at a local spoken word open mic. He has since been workshopping with the club and coaching the team.
“The team is getting better and better,” Limer said via email. “The good news is that the team is eager and excited. That goes a long way.”
Now that the team has been established, the members will practice weekly with their coach.
“Most people don’t understand the practice needed to create a solid team,” Limer said. “Preparation requires writing, memorization and performance.”
Though the competition aspect of Slam Poetry requires technical considerations, most poets write based on feelings.
“Its just a lot of emotions that I really needed to get out … Our coach calls it ‘poor man’s therapy’ because its free and it really helps everything,” Sleeper said. “We are about expression. Just getting our emotions into words that we can then speak to people.”
These emotionally written poems, after careful workshops and edits, become the poems read in competition. The PLNU Slam team will compete in February in the regional CUPSI event held by the ACUI (Association of College Unions International). According to the ACUI website, “everyone is enriched by sharing poetry, embracing the value of inclusivity, and supporting a program in which ‘Everyone’s voice is welcome.’”
“With the creation of our new poetry team and the addition of our coach, we’re really excited for the future of the club and for new students to come and check us out,” McGrath said. “All are welcome!”