Slam poetry touches audiences at Chum’s through a lens of interesting topics

January 26, 2018

Brandeis’ slam poetry team Poetic Justice held their “final slam” Friday, Jan. 19 at Cholmondeley’s Coffee House to determine who would be a part of Brandeis’ official slam team this year. The night was full of emotions, friendship and poetry, a fitting end to this year’s slam season.

The final slam was organized by former team member Olivia Nichols ’20 and hosted by former Brandeis student Usman Hameedi ’12, who helped create Poetic Justice in 2009. Every year Poetic Justice assembles a five-person team to attend the College Unions Poetry Slam Invitational (CUPSI) where they compete against other teams for top honors. Last year, Poetic Justice placed 47th out of 72 teams, an impressive result for a team comprised entirely of first-year competitors. This year there will be even more teams, and competition, attending the CUPSI. The talent displayed Friday, however, can definitely stand up to this competition.
The evening started with Hameedi introducing the event and himself. This introduction set the tone for the event; the affable poet kept it light and friendly with self-deprecation and encouragement for all. He performed a stirring poem about racial profiling at airports, hitting a remarkable balance between comedy and anger. He was followed by “sacrificial poet” and former team member Jack Rubinstein ’20 whose performance was intended to loosen up the crowd and wasn’t competing for a place on the team.

With that, the competition began in earnest. It was divided into three rounds, each of which would have poets perform three-minute pieces and then be judged by five random members of the audience. After each round the poets with the lowest scores were cut until there were only five left: the CUPSI team.

Even in the first round, the performers’ skill was evident, likely because all those involved had already performed well at a previous slam. The poets in the round explored many topics, from Ash Taber’s ’21 touching poem on sexuality to Nichol’s story of learning to take pride in her mother’s “un-American” food and Alina Sipp-Alper’s ’21 unnervingly urgent tips for women to avoid sexual assault; the fact such tips are necessary is a remarkably powerful reminder of how widespread the problem remains. But the most popular poem of the round was undoubtedly the final one, Kwesi Jones’ ’21 monologue about the historically male abuse of power and how “men are trash,” a humorous indictment of our deeply sexist culture.

After a short break for scores to be tallied, the poets jumped into the second round with enthusiasm. Some of the poets even seemed as though they had been holding back, saving their better material for the later round. The audience had gotten used to the flow of the event and were beginning to participate, booing low scores from the judges and cheering for high ones. Liv Perozo ’21 delivered a unique message in a poem about her love/hate relationship with “slam culture” and its traditional focus on social justice. This focus has helped all groups, especially those often denied a voice, to express their true feelings about their lives. But, as Perozo pointed out, it can tread close to forcing its performers to reveal their private lives and talk about trauma to earn a higher score. Somewhat ironically, many of the other stand-out poems were about the poets’ private lives. Victoria Richardson ’20, who won last year’s final slam, delivered a tongue-in-cheek thank you to the predominantly white background of Brandeis for reminding her she was black and Sipp-Alpers spoke about escaping a toxic relationship.

The third round was even more intense, with performances earning some of the first perfect 10/10’s from the judges. Some of the poets became emotional during their performances, many of which were indictments of various aspects of our society, from subtle racism to rape culture. These indictments were brought to life by the poets’ framing them in the context of their lives, as Perozo did with American ignorance of other countries’ issues by talking about her Venezuelan family’s problems in the context of questions from a naïve friend asking questions.

The slam delivered powerful and timely, if not always original, testaments about our society as well as a fun and friendly night. It happened thanks to your Brandeis CUPSI representatives: Liv Perozo ’20, Alina Sipp-Alpers ‘21, Kwesi Jones ’21, Imani Islam ’20 and Victoria Richardson ’20. Poetic Justice will continue to perform and hold slams; I highly recommend you check them out.

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