Last year, Swarthmore students travelled to Los Angeles to participate for the first time in the College Union Poetry Slam Invitational. This year Swarthmore’s CUPSI team will compete again, this time at Barnard College in New York. This year’s team consists of senior Ian Anderson, sophomores Taryn Englehart, Noel Quiñonez, and Julian Randall, and freshman Rose Wunrow, who all placed in the top five of November’s qualifying slam. For some members, this will be their first time participating in the national event, while for others this will be their second performance at the Invitational.
According to the Association of College Unions International, the organization which runs CUPSI, slam poetry “is a form of performance poetry that occurs within a competitive poetry event, called a ‘slam,’ at which poets perform their own poems that are judged on a numeric scale by randomly picked members of the audience.”
The invitational, which features over 50 schools, runs from April 3 to April 6 and includes workshops as well as the competition itself.
“As far as goals are concerned we just want to leave with no regrets and go hard with everything we got,” said Randall, who became involved in slam poetry about a year ago. “It’d be nice to win, but end of the day we really just want to make sure everybody touches the stage and that we leave knowing we didn’t hold anything back.”
This past Saturday night Swat’s CUPSI Slam Team previewed their CUPSI material for the Swarthmore community in a showcase of 23 poems. The performance to a packed Sci 101 spoke to the growth in support the group has experienced over the past year. When Quiñons took to the stage, he noted that last year’s showcase was hosted in Paces, a venue of half Sci 101’s capacity. The team’s performance made evident that its members had been working hard for the past four months, perfecting not only poems but their multi-faceted delivery.
“Preparing the poems for the competition took what felt like forever, but I’m glad because looking at them over and over again really pushed me to become more thoughtful and honest as a writer,” explained Wunrow. “It’s been a strange mix of empathy and analysis. But the process was also fantastic because we could run whatever we wrote and memorized by our team, and having their fresh perspective on your piece is so helpful.”
What makes slam poetry so exciting is the energy and performative style that go into each piece. Saturday night featured solo performances as well as duets and covered diverse topics ranging from identity, love, poverty, family, race, hope, fear, and death. This expanse of topics highlighted the team’s impressive talent.
With Randall MC-ing the event, the team’s excitement as well as the audience’s enjoyment was evident. It was obvious that these five Swatties were very much a team, cheering each other on during their performances as well as calling each other embarrassingly revealing nicknames they’d given to each other.
By the time each performer had taken the stage a few times, the audience became familiar with each of the poets’ styles. Anderson had impressive artistry, painting imaginative, complex images. Behind the mic Englehert carried a lot of charisma, making it seem as though she were simply having a conversation with the audience (albeit one featuring more rhymes than usual). Quiñones seemed very comfortable on stage, showcasing his broad range of artistic styles. He performed as part of a duet in one piece before quickly moving on to a solo spoken mostly in Spanish. Randall’s metaphors were always very entertaining to hear, performing a monologue in the character of the Old Spice spokesman as an extended metaphor for standards of masculinity. And Wunrow’s expressive performances conveyed the emotion of the poems very well, complementing their content and allowing their meaning to become that much more evident.
The 2013 Swat CUPSI Slam Poetry Team Showcase was a big success. As Randall said Saturday, audience members’ brains were full wof metaphors by the end of the night, and it was great. The team clearly had a lot of fun, and carried themselves with a practiced looseness that they’ll hopefully take with them to New York, New York.