Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
Our Art Spoken in Soul, Swarthmore’s spoken word poetry collective (OASIS), will present a slam to determine the team of five poets that will compete in the College Unions Poetry Slam Invitational (CUPSI). The competition will take place tonight, at 6 p.m. in Olde Club.
OASIS Open Mics are usually showcases, but this Slam will be a competition. The two rounds will be judged by leaders of Haverford’s slam poetry group and two outside poets that have worked with OASIS.
OASIS’s popularity has been steadily accumulating this semester. With more members, events, and participants in Open Mics, the group has gained momentum on campus, bringing poets out of hiding and poetry into the consciousness of the Swarthmore community. 20 will slam tonight to fill five team spots.
Before last year’s CUPSI slam, Oasis faced a drastically different situation. Board member (and member of last year’s CUPSI team) Noel Quiñones ’15 says, “I had to literally go around Olde Club and beg [people] to slam. . . even after all my begging and pleading, we had 8 people.” This year, the Slam organizers had to add a second round.
The slam will work as follows: each poet will perform a three-and-a-half minute spoken word piece—memorization suggested but not required. The pieces will be scored from 0.0 to 10.0, and the ten poets with the top scores move to the second round. In this round, the remaining poets will perform two-minute poems and the five winners will be chosen.
Does the pressure of competition change the experience for the poets? Board member Julian Randall ‘15, who also slammed in the competition last year, said that for him, the “instant feedback” enhances the experience. “It’s a little scary but I’ve been looking forward to this for a while,” he said. “It’s really rewarding.”
Rose Wunrow ’16 is similarly apprehensive. “I’m so excited and nervous! It’s my first year trying out spoken word and it’s been an incredibly inspiring experience being part of such a supportive group,” she said. “Watching everyone perform at the slam will be amazing.”
For Quiñones, experiencing CUPSI last year has increased his anticipation for this year’s slam, “After coming back, I realized how important it is to go back to this competition how truly inspirational and life changing it was.”
Much like the increasing size of Swarthmore’s pool of poets, CUPSI itself is expanding. Quinones explained that with the increasing awareness and popularity of spoken word—and the fact that the competition will be held in New York City this year—there will mot likely be 60 or more teams competing in 2013, compared with 42 in 2012. This year’s competition rules will be posted in January.
Of course, for the five team members chosen, the fun will start after tonight’s slam. Each member will need four individual poems, and the group will compose four pieces with multiple poets. The time commitment will be significant, but Swarthmore poets already know a thing or two about dedication to their art.
The Swarthmore’s CUPSI Slam comes during a week that Randall called “a gift from the poetry gods.” On Tuesday, Junot Diaz spoke at University of Pennsylvania. On Wednesday, OASIS members attended a Harvest Open Mic in Philadelphia. On Thursday members went to see poet Andrea Gibson. On Saturday after Friday’s slam, OASIS poets will attend a slam in Chester and perhaps one at Bryn Mawr as well.
The most exciting part of so many poets slamming to represent the Swarthmore community is the revelation that occurs at each OASIS event. In the words of Quiñones, “I am continually surprised by people at the open mics who show up. . .and they just kill it. . .There [have been surprises already] and there are going to be a lot of surprises on Friday.”
Photos courtesy of Lydia Bailey.