Midterms can get in the way of poetry slams. But even on an “off night” for Brandeis’ new slam poetry team Poetic Justice, a small group of students gathered at Cholmondeley’s Coffee House to share some of their work at the Spooky Open Mic and SLAM event.
When Dean of Students Jamele Adams offered the class of 2020 his email and an invitation for a personal lunch at the “This is Our House” orientation ceremony, Jack Rubinstein ’20 took him up on his offer. It was at this lunch that Adams told Rubinstein that Brandeis used to have a slam poetry team and Rubinstein thought of starting it up again. The two met once every other week for the majority of the last academic year to discuss the logistics of the new team. By the end of last year, the team of five students began attending competitions, including the College Unions Poetry Slam Invitational, for which they ranked 47th out of 72 competing colleges.
Outside of the Brandeis community, those in the slam poetry scene know Dean Jamele as Harlym 125, his stage name. As the coach of Poetic Justice, Adams supervises the group on their pieces and events. The Dean’s office provides funding to rent out spaces for the Open Mic events until the team is chartered, meaning they can request funding from the allocations board.
“[Adams] is an amazing poet. We’re really lucky to have him, and he gives us all of these amazing oppurtunities, like performing at This is Our House,” said Olivia Perozo ’20, a member of Poetic Justice.
This year, Poetic Justice is hosting weekly Open Mic events where students share poems, stories and songs. Throughout the semester, there will be semi-final and final competitions to decide who will be on the competitive team, for which there are five spots.
“We have a space every week for free expression,” Rubinstein said. “The first night we did at The Stein, and we thought, ‘no one is going to come,’ but then there wasn’t anywhere to sit.”
Perozo and Rubinstein see slam poetry as not only a form of artistic expression, but as activism.
“The community is very much based in activism and based in people of color, LGBT people, mentally ill people, people of different religions, minorities or people who feel disenfranchised with dominant culture talking about their experiences,” Perozo added. “Being able to talk and share their stories and their experiences with trauma and pain and happiness and love [is] activism.”
Slam poetry has had a long history on college campuses, but the original start of slam is contested. Though it began as a type of poetry reading, the genre has evolved to take on a new and recognized form.
“Slam right now is known as a space for people who are minorities in any way,” Perozo said. “It’s a place to talk about what’s going on with you, and it’s for people who feel alienated. It’s really known as an angry space. It used to be that way too, but there didn’t used to be as big a difference between page poems and spoken poems.”
Perozo and Rubinstein said that a large part of being involved in slam is the importance of response, especially in poems that discuss topics that some may feel uncomfortable bringing up with friends.
“When you write down your feelings and present them in beautiful language, the responses can be so much more affirming and validating,” Perozo said. “Slam can also be activism in that it provides a community, and communities can create huge amounts of change.”
“If someone remotely has a similar experience and a similar feeling, they’ll be able to say ‘I get that,’” Rubinstein added.
Poetic Justice is hoping to host more workshops next semester for students to learn about how to write slam and to have a group to write with. Meanwhile, the date for the semi-final competition will be announced within the next couple of weeks. Perozo and Rubenstein encouraged readers to attend the weekly slams, even if they have no writing to share.
“Even if you don’t want to slam, coming out for an open mic night is really validating,” Perozo said. “In a lot of ways is can educate people in a way that is more approachable. Hearing someone’s story directly from their mouth is a very personal. It’s about making the statement that the personal is political,” Perozo said. “This person is in front of you and they’re telling you their exact story.”