At my high school, one of our beloved traditions was the annual poetry slam. At this spring event, students could sign up to read their poems onstage to an audience of their teachers and peers. Readers even had the opportunity to be judged by a panel of English teachers and students and place as champion in several categories, including humor, duo, and individual. Many students looked forward to this event to see their friends perform and miss an hour or two of classes.
Whether the poems were good was another problem. In my junior year, we had a student get up on stage and read a ten-minute poem basically about how much he hated every single one of us and how his crippling depression was all our fault. By the middle of the poem, he was screaming— people were actually scared he might try to hurt us. Middle school students had come to sit in on the poetry slam. They were quickly ushered out by their teachers.
In my senior year, my English teacher needed people to read, so he signed everyone up in his senior debate class whether they liked it or not. I read my poem— which I thought was okay at the time but in hindsight was actually awful— and there weren’t any major incidents, except an alarmingly high number of terrible, angsty breakup poems, and a poem written by the Class Republican™ that contradicted itself over and over.
Maybe that’s why I’ve never really understood slam poetry. I don’t like writing it because there is literally not a single topic on this earth that I have something substantial to say in which the thought of reading it aloud doesn’t make me feel completely mortified. I also am terrible at public speaking. I hate the sound of my voice, so even practicing makes my heart race. And up until just recently, I don’t think I had ever heard a slam poem that really moved me.
I attended the FUSE poetry slam at Trax this Friday because literally everyone in the English department was excited about it. I told myself to go, and if it got boring, I could just leave. Much to my surprise, I ended up staying the whole night. From the first poem, I could tell that I wasn’t in high school anymore. The readers, many of which were SU students, impressed me each time with their use of language and the delivery of their poems. I had a lot of fun!
I feel very lucky, and a little intimidated, to be a part of a community of such great writers at SU! I guess I should improve my poetry skills.