On Saturday, Rose Wunrow ’16 and fellow teammates Haydil Henriquez ’14, Maria Vietyez ’16, Kat Galvis ’17 and George Abraham ’17 amazed a full Science Center 101 with a performance of the work they have prepared to compete at the 2014 College Unions Poetry Slam Invitational.
This is the third year that Swarthmore will send five of its most gifted and dedicated poets to represent the school at the event. The uncompromising honesty with which performers expose their resentments, desires, frustrations and laments is the reason Swarthmore’s spoken word community takes up the CUPSI stage.
The team’s coach and Philadelphia spoken word artist Vision offered a heartfelt introduction describing each poet’s individual gifts. “It is impossible to give less fucks than this dude right here,” he said of Abraham’s willingness to push the boundary with pen and voice. He praised the brutal honesty of Vietyez’s writing, commended Galvis’ on-the-ball attitude, and recounted being immediately struck by Henriquez’s intellectual and emotional maturity when he met her. The work and the will that characterizes this team was evident throughout the evening.
Abraham opened the show with a combination of satire, anger and somber contemplation. His address “To the Authors of Nine Things That Pissed Me Off Recently” was, for the most part, a calling-out of the messages put forth by mainstream print culture, but also considered the relationship between a writer and her work. He also read “Dear Virginia Woolf, I never Realized ‘Mrs. Dalloway’ Was Your Suicide Letter.”
Galvis forced the audience to consider the reality of what spoken word artists attempt to communicate when on stage. “Bipolar disorder is not a fucking metaphor!” she exclaimed before confessing, “My mind is a World War II landmine.” While one might ask, “then why use a metaphor to describe it?”, what Galvis forces an audience to consider is the conflict, the contradiction, the turmoil born from looking at something profoundly.
It was evident by the tears in the audience that Vietyez’s account of being poisoned by the beauty standards imposed on women at an early age touched many. Vietyez described having been “a girl wearing her skin like a dying flower wears its petals.” The creativity with which she and her teammates communicated struggles that a great number of us grapple with was what made their performances so invaluable.
I was delighted when Henriquez began a piece I haven’t heard for quite some time. Despite all the calling-out (or “click-clacking,” as Vision calls it) of lovers, oppressors, peers and strangers that is done in slam poetry, Henriquez’s “Ten Things I Want to Say to a Man of Color” was wholly tributary. The sheer admiration with which she spoke to and of the poem’s addressees was an example of spoken word’s inclination to imbue that which is often masked.
While each of the poets’ works showed their individual struggles and contemplations, group pieces in which two or more teammates performed a poem demonstrated how resonance can be found between unique perspectives on similar experiences. In “Dancing After Death,” Henriquez and Wunrow interwove two experiences to convey what it means for them to handle grief. Vietyez and Wunrow together insisted, “I’m not okay.” Abraham and Henriquez balanced the gravity of serious topics with humor. One of the lighter pieces was “Seven Things on Shitting in a Gender-Neutral Bathroom.”
The showcase was not simply a performance, but an opportunity for students to see how Swarthmore will be represented at the competition and for the competitors to engage a large audience before heading off. The team will compete at the University of Boulder in Colorado during spring break. Last year, the team placed ninth out of fifty-nine teams. Perhaps this year they will beat their record.
As the team’s budget remains a few hundred dollars short, any amount in donations would be very much appreciated. Donations can be made at http://www.gofundme.com/swatslamteam.