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Detroit junior Joshua Taylor performs a poem titled “Loved Suicide” at the slam poetry night put on by Word Hammer, a student organization on CMU’s campus, on Oct. 18 in the Charles V. Park Library Auditorium. Taylor scored a 28 from the judges. (Beth Walter | GCmag.org)
Students of Central Michigan University took to the stage Oct. 18 in the Charles V. Park Library’s auditorium armed only with words. By the end of each reading, the words had inherited veins, throbbing with a pulse and wielding a fist raised high in the evening air. The event marked the first poetry slam of the semester, conducted by the student organization Word Hammer.
When asked to define exactly what a poetry slam is, Ariel Vandenbosch, president of Word Hammer and a participant in the event, struggled to find the words.
“Slam poetry is … saying what you need to say in a way that everyone will understand,” she said. “At its core, its not just poetry; it’s performance poetry. As long as it means something to you and can mean something to someone else, then it’s slam poetry.”
Participants were given three minutes to perform original work to an audience. Their performance was evaluated by five randomly selected judges from the audience, promoting an already interactive show. After performers finished, audience members then either agreed with the judges’ decisions through applause, or disagreed with boos, prompting a change in the judges’ first decision.
After all performers finished, the top three scorers were tallied to determine the winners. The finalists then competed in the final round.
Though the event is poetry-based by definition, many performers displayed a theatrical element with interpretive hand motions and gestures. Performers emphasized or de-emphasized certain points by manipulating pitch and sound level of their voices upon delivery. Others sang their words to the audience.
Common themes centered on abandonment and the personal loss of lovers or close ones, creating both a provocative and motivating feel — though not all was dreary. One performer seemed to confess her love for a turtle in an aquarium. Another boasted of his pride in being a nerd, constantly evoking laughter from the audience.
GCmag, slam poet winner, Joshua Taylor from Michael Bee on Vimeo.
Joshua Taylor, a slam veteran and winner of the event, focused on an instance of suicide in one piece and black stereotypes and oppression in American society in another. His strength as a performer was evident with the emotional-driven delivery of his writing.
“He has a very consistent style and presence,” Vandenbosch said. “He’s very charismatic when he performs. If he doesn’t win, he’s almost always in the second round.”
But not everyone is as seasoned as Taylor. The majority of participants performed at the slam for the first time.
“We have a lot of theater and writing majors (in Word Hammer),” Vandenbosch said. “And then we have people that don’t do either, they just love to do it.”
One of those performers was Auburn Hills sophomore Kaitlen Lang, who is pursuing a double-major in Spanish and biology. After taking a theater and introduction class in which she took part in a group poetry slam project, Lang became involved with Word Hammer and performed in her first poetry slam on Thursday.
“I’ve always written poetry my whole life but I never really showed anyone,” she said. “I’ll have something rattling around in my head and I’ve just got to write it out.”
Though Lang has been kept busy with her studies, she still seeks to focus on her writing. In the week prior to the event, she dreaded performing before an audience — yet her poem tied for first place with Joshua Taylor at the conclusion of the first round.
“It’s cool to see someone stand up on stage and empty their guts out into a microphone,” Lang said.
Through audience donations, Word Hammer raised $87.80 from the event. The student organization hosts a poetry slam at least once every semester and is constantly looking for new, eager writers and performers of all types to share a piece of their mind.
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