Final slam spotlights Brandeis poets
Brandeis freshman Jack Rubinstein ’20 put together a final slam, hosted by Dean of Student Life, Jamele Adams, in Cholmondeley’s Coffee House, this past Saturday evening. An end to a series of slams from last semester, the night was a competition for slam poets on campus, allowing those who scored highest to compete in the College Unions Poetry Slam Invitational. While the competition resulted in a single winner — Victoria Richardson ’20 — the five top scoring poets now make up Brandeis’ newly revived Slam Team. Many of the slams struck the crowd silent with pressing themes and dramatic presentation, contrasting with Jamele Adams’ comedic interlude between performances in the coffee house atmosphere.
Spoken word poetry — performed at events called slams — offers a gateway into the narratives behind poetry. Historically a highly politicized art form, slam poetry allows literary expression to breach the separation of viewer and artist, edging into activism. Although slams are not required to be political commentary or address current events, the majority of the poetry performed Saturday addressed Trump directly and his actions to limit immigration into America, as well as race relations and police brutality.
Although many in the crowd — a group of 40 people — were poets themselves, the beauty of a slam is that no one really knows what to expect. Any person can go up and perform whatever they want — assuming they keep to the three minute time limit—which kept the audience engaged, at the ends of their seats, ready for each performer. The only alert the audience had to the beginning of a poem was when the poet would make eye contact with the crowd. This meant a poet had the ability to start walking on stage, to the side of the microphone or standing a few feet away from the microphone. This is a unique feature to slamming — a feature that allows an intimate interaction between viewer and poet.
Starting off the night, two “sacrificial” poets performed their work, priming the audience, five randomly chosen judges and 13 competitors for the events to come. Although these poets were not officially a part of the competition, they still performed with surprising emotional intensity and clarity. Although only seven competitors continued to the second round, each poet finished with grace to thunderous applause from the audience.
The first round had the most competitors and, also, the widest range of topics. While Alina Shirley ’19 invited the audience to jog their memories regarding novels — and the narrow, almost-expected idea that a novel include a love story — in her slam about asexuality; Michael Solowey’s ’19 poem included an anecdotal story about a boy inspiring us to respond to the current presidency with strength, to fight back rather than sit passively. This first round allowed a wide-range of topics and styles to be explored — a sampler of sorts, showing the wide range of expression spoken word poetry allows the poet to evoke as well as the wide range of topics spoken word poetry is conducive to.
Continuing to the next round, with a much smaller group of competitors, the pressure became more apparent. Watching each performance, it seemed absurd to put a numerical value on each person’s poem. Every poem was evocative and unique, guaranteed to give each judge a difficult time in distinguishing which poets had to be cut from the final round.
One of the most powerful works, written and performed by Nia Duncan ’20, stunned the crowd into silence at its raw delivery. Although she shouted at points in her performance — a manner not typically associated with poetry — she did so with awareness, allowing her poem to be all the more poignant, reminding the audience of the power of a slam.
Not every poem was this dark, however. Jack Rubinstein’s poem, for example, was quite a humorous play about the embarrassment associated with hickeys — inviting laughter and lighter emotion into the coffee house, all the while addressing the unfair double standards and sexism in modern hookup culture. Liv Perozo’s ’20 first poem addressed racism she has experienced and unjust generalizations about Latinx and Hispanic people with a much more cynical comedy.
While all the poems throughout the night were greeted with applause, and each was impressive in its own right, at the end of the evening, only five people were given a spot on Brandeis’ Slam Team, the members include: Nia Duncan ’20, Liv Perozo ’20, Jack Rubinstein ’20, Olivia Nichols ’20 and the overall top-scoring poet of the evening, Victoria Richardson ’20. The night was a creative way to highlight the wide-ranging talents of Brandeis students as well as to showcase the power of art in addressing personal experience, bigotry and politics.