On Saturday, November 8, Swarthmore’s fourth annual CUPSI team was selected at a qualifier held in LPAC. The five teammates are entering this process having had various experiences with each other and the competition at large.
Four of the poets have competed at CUPSI before, either in 2013 or 2014. Cat Velez ’17 is the only one that has never attended the competition. The invitational, in some ways, feels daunting in this respect.
“Knowing that I have to go on stage in front of a fuck-ton of people in the middle of bumble-fuck Virginia is kind of scary,” she said.
Fortunately, Velez is close friends with George Abraham ’17, and seeing him go through the audition process was a helpful guide to doing it herself.
“George is one of my best friends on campus, and he was talking me through the [CUPSI preparation] process as he was going through it,” Velez said.
Abraham’s experience in last year’s competition, both good and bad, made him ponder whether he would try for the competition this year as well as help Velez.
“The negatives were bad insofar that I contemplated not trying out for the team this year,” Abraham said. “However, the good definitely outweighed the bad. I definitely think the overall experience was extremely beneficial.”
The qualifiers, when he eventually decided to participate, were a nerve-racking experience, regardless of the fact he’d done it once before.
“Just because you make the CUPSI team one year doesn’t mean you’re guaranteed to make it in subsequent years,” Abraham said.
Looking forward though, he is excited for the coming process — especially with regards to his teammates.
“I am close friends with everyone on the team, and although there are so many other equally talented poets on campus, I feel like our closeness and comfort with each other will help us in terms of coming up with group piece ideas and syncing our schedules for practice times,” he said.
Kat Galvis Rodriguez ’17, who was on the 2014 team with Abraham, agrees that their pre-existing bonds will change the dynamics of the team this year.
“On last year’s team, none of us knew each other beforehand,” she said. “It took a lot more time to get the ball rolling.”
Galvis Rodriguez is eager to see how this year’s team will play out, given the differences between the poets. Unity remains key to the process in her eyes.
“It will be interesting to get to know peoples’ different styles,” she said. “But what’s so important, so vital, is making sure you feel comfortable with your team.”
Julian Randall ’15, who along with Noel Quiñones ’15 are the two seniors on the team and both competed in CUPSI 2013, also sees the importance in welding as a team.
“It’s gonna be really fun. Every year the team is different but every time it comes out a family.”
Velez, from her vantage point last year, noticed this bond, and looks forward to being included in it as she readies for the arduous preparation for the competition.
“Right now, they have this family dynamic going on,” she said. “Becoming better friends with these people I don’t know very well is probably going to be the best thing for me.”
Thinking further ahead to the competition, Galvis Rodriguez is keen to maintain the same kinds of priorities she saw with last year’s team.
“One thing I really admired about our team last year that I am going to continue this year is that we weren’t writing for an audience,” she said. “I am writing to put out a message.”
Abraham voiced similar hopes, but framed them with regards to the competition as a whole.
“Competition is definitely not the most important aspect of CUPSI, and the ACUI [Association of College Unions International] board does a great job at promoting the idea that ‘the point isn’t the points – the point is the poetry,’” he said.
Thinking back on his experience in 2013, Randall remembers the competition as much more than just the score he received.
“It’s kind of overwhelming at first. People who inspired me — coaches, other participants — you see them walking around and you ask ‘why aren’t you in a YouTube clip, why aren’t you where I saw you the first time,’” he said.
Given his experience, he feels like he’s going to enter the team with a different set of goals from before.
“It’s gonna be more about me trying to step up, me trying to be a leader this year,” he said. “I think I’ll feel a lot more comfortable being vocal about how I think we should stack the pieces, which is a strategic thing we’ll go into a lot when the group pieces are written. In 2013 it was really about me trying to keep my head above water.”
Although Randall seems keen to use his experience for the better of the team, his role is by far not the only one. The CUPSI veterans seem thrilled about having Velez on the team, and new blood seems valued as much as the more experienced poets.
“[Cat’s] pen is crazy,” Randall said.
Galvis Rodriguez echoed this sentiment.
“I’m really happy to have someone on the team who’s as honest as Cat,” she said.
CUPSI 2015 will be held at Virginia Commonwealth University from March 25 to 28.