Last Saturday, Swarthmore’s spoken word group, OASIS, hosted its annual qualifier for the College Unions Poetry Slam Invitational. This is the fourth running year that OASIS has sent a team to the invitational, which this year will take place in Richmond, Va.
The qualifier started at 7 p.m. in Lang Concert Hall. Each poet performed a timed piece (up to 3 minutes and 10 seconds) that was then scored by five judges. After discounting the highest and lowest score, the remaining three were added together. Generally, the five best scoring performers are then selected for the CUPSI team.
But this year, the system did not manage to wring out the qualifying performers. Due to identical scores, three poets had to compete in a “slam-off,” the first in Swarthmore CUPSI qualifier history. Melio Covarrubias ’15, Kat Galvis Rodriguez ’17 and Cat Velez ’17 were asked to perform a second, unprepared poem for the last two spots on the team. The latter two eventually made it, joining George Abragam ’17, Julian Randall ’15 and Noel Quiñones ’15 on the now complete team.
The slam-off was an unexpected turn of events, and the poets involved had not been told to prepare second pieces. The competitors were given little time to come up with one, with their place on the team at stake. They expressed displeasure with the ordeal.
Galvis Rodriguez had to read the poem she used for last year’s qualifier, which had secured her a place on the 2014 team. She was unsure about whether to do so.
“I wasn’t happy, not only about the slam-off but also to do that piece,” she said. “It’s a very hard piece.
Slam poetry is a very personal medium of self expression, and Galvis Rodriguez was concerned about the motivations behind her unexpected performance.
“What I was trying to convince myself of is that I was performing it for the right reasons,” she said. “I would never perform a piece just for the score.”
The ordeal is now over, though, and the selected poets have started preparing for the invitational, which will be held March 25 to 28 at Virginia Commonwealth University. Due to changes in funding allocation, part of these preparations is raising funds for travel needs. The team has set up a GoFundMe page to this end.