Slam Nahuatl, VCU’s performance poetry organization, competed in the annual College Unions Poetry Slam Invitational in Colorado earlier this month, finishing with a win in slam spirit and second-place overall in the competition.
Shavontae Patrick, Raymon Johnson, Joshua Braunstein, Phen Bowman and Saidu Tejan-Thomas represented VCU in the competition held March 12-15. Randomly chosen judges scored the poets based on writing and performance of each piece. After days of preliminary bouts, members of Slam Nahuatl made it to the final stage. They were awarded second place, behind University of Texas-Austin. The competition also has superlative awards, in which VCU won “spirit of the slam,” given to teams who maintain a positive and supportive attitude.
Tejan-Thomas, the president of the organization and team captain, said his slam team has progressed in the competition since first participating last year.
“We came out with second place, one better than last year,” Tejan-Thomas said. “We were the only team that was on final stage the previous year that returned again.”
Slam Nahuatl was formed in 2011 by Rob Gibson, who is now one of the coaches for this year’s team. The group was originally a student-run branch of the Richmond slam poetry team. The group’s name derives from an old term, Tejan-Thomas said.
“Nahuatl is an Aztec word, meaning ‘a good clear sound,’” Tejan-Thomas said. “The founders thought it would be fitting to name a slam poetry group Slam Nahuatl.”
The group has held slams at the start of the fall semester since 2011. After winter break, people who score high in qualifying slams are selected for the Grand Ram Slam. The top five poets then earn a spot on the official VCU team.
During the invitational, Tejan-Thomas said teams from across the country present poetry that hit close to home. California teams spoke about the low quality of public education in their cities. Northwestern teams recited poems about gender and intersectionality and teams from the Northeast took on the topic of race in America. The wide range of cultures at VCU helped the team cover many subjects, Tejan-Thomas said.
“Because VCU is such a diverse school, our team had a variety of poems and we were able to bring a little bit of everything to the table,” Tejan-Thomas said.
Even though schools from different parts of the United States compete, Tejan-Thomas said everyone connected through poetry. After the competition, students stay in touch through social media and share stories about their experiences. Tejan-Thomas said the competition can make it hard to return to school.
“We become family with one another, and we just spent an entire week doing what we love,” Tejan-Thomas said. “It is always hard returning to normal everyday life.”
During the competition, Tejan-Thomas said the coaches for his team, Gibson and Chris Johnson, helped push everyone to their limits. At times, students would stay up until 6 a.m. revising poems. The team’s unrelenting attitude helped them go far, Tejan-Thomas said.
“Most of all we are hungry, for growth and maturity in our art,” Tejan-Thomas said.
Slam Nahuatl holds open mic nights on campus and encourages anyone to attend. The events are held every other Monday at 8:30 p.m. at the Nile Ethiopian Restaurant at 309 N. Laurel St.