Slam team prepares for national competition

In the season of Golden Globes, Grammys and Oscars, many of us consider what it means to be awarded for one’s writing, performance and collaborative effort. Swarthmore College’s spoken word group, Our Art Spoken In Soul (OASIS), encourages its members to combine these skills to produce works of art unique to each participant and compelling to a wide range of individuals. In March, the group will send a team of five students to perform original poems at the College Unions Slam Poetry Invitational (CUPSI) held in Boulder, Co.

For the second year in a row, Rose Wunrow ’16 will join fellow teammates Haydil Henriquez ’14, Maria Vieytez ’16, George Abraham ’17, and Katherine Galvis ’17 in Boulder for the 2014 CUPSI Tournament.  For Wunrow, team bonding rather than scores remains at the heart of Swarthmore’s CUPSI experience. “Last year we were such a family.” Wunrow beams as she recalls her experience with the 2013 CUPSI team which placed ninth out of fifty-nine teams last April. She is convinced that similar links will be formed by the end of this experience. “That’s just what happens when you share experiences like this.” Wunrow had no intent of joining a spoken word group when she came to Swarthmore as a freshman, but says that the sense of welcome and belonging veterans offered new members was the primary reason she stayed in the group. Her previous teammates “really helped us come out of the box with artistic experience.”

As in previous years, the team is being coached by Philadelphia spoken word artist and youth mentor Vision, under whom the Philly Youth Poetry Movement Slam Team won the Brave New Voices International Youth Poetry Slam in 2011. Wunrow describes the team’s coach with a combination of amazement at his boundless energy and appreciation for his respect of the art form’s impact. “He’ll push you if you aren’t delivering a poem with as much passion and emotion as when you wrote it. But he’ll let you know if he thinks something is too much for you. Poetry can keep opening a healing wound and Vision is very good about knowing when not to push.”

Along with Vision, each team member brings something invaluable to the group. Wunrow looks to the ceiling and shakes her head with pleased disbelief as she speaks of Henriquez’ “magical presence.” Vieytez, initially a page poet with a knack for fusing hopeful and sardonic poetic speakers, had never competed in a slam before the CUPSI qualifiers competition. However, you might remember her performance at last spring’s reading given by Professor Betsy Bolton’s Poetry Writer’s Workshop.

Like Vieytez, freshmen Abraham and Galvis have less experience with slam poetry, but bring the youthful vibrancy necessary to keep a team fresh. “They are both such strong people and display such honesty and courage. It’s a joy to work with everyone.”

Logistics will be determined as the team advances through the competition. Pieces in which two or more poets take the stage to perform a poem they’ve collaborated on are known as group pieces, and the team intends to have more of these than the year before. This year the team expects to bring around twelve group pieces with a couple of performers per poem. Wunrow notes the impact group pieces can have when performed well. “You find something that you both feel really passionate about and both bond over that.” One may say that group pieces require a different kind of energy than solo performances as “you have to know your partner’s lines so you can be in tune and know what the other person needs.”

Aside from increasing the number of group pieces, the team does not have a clear-cut strategy to follow entering the competition. Swarthmore’s CUPSI team continues to write about “things we care passionately about, along with the themes of family, identity, personal experiences which really affected you.” Under Vision’s guidance, the team will decide what pieces to perform based on who they face. Teams they are keeping an eye on include NYU, Brooklyn, Stanford, McCallister and Wesleyan. “The teams change from year to year so it’s hard to predict.”

The team will likely have a showcase of the work they’ve prepared over the past few months, so keep your ears open. You can also see a number of open mic, showcase and CUPSI performances on OASIS’ YouTube channel, OasisSwarthmore.


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