The 15th annual College Unions Poetry Slam Invitational concluded last Saturday following four days of elimination-style competition.
Virginia Commonwealth University’s poetry group Good Clear Sound placed second after New York University, followed by Eastern Michigan University and Simmons College.
The finals took place in the Altria Theatre, and featured performances by student poets from previously-eliminated universities, as well as nationally-renowned poet Aja Monet who presented several pieces.
Brian Magee, who is the Educational Program Coordinator at the Association of College Unions International, has been the director for the Poetry Slam Invitational for the past four years, and oversaw the entire event.
VCU went through a bidding process to host this year’s event.
“The host support from the campus has been unmatched by any school in the past,” Magee said. “Enormous staff support, student support, and a team that’s placed in finals for the past few years.”
VCU’s team came in second this year and in 2014, and placed third in 2013. This year, they faced international competition for the first time in the event’s history, but still managed to come close to first.
“All of the students are amazing,” Magee said. “I mean, absolutely amazing. The teams are bar none this year, and we’ve had our first international team this year so we are truly an international event.”
The opening piece of poetry was presented by students from the Berklee College of Music. Their piece, like many of the pieces presented at the event, centered around racism.
The event was hosted by poet Amin Drew Law Dallal from Washington, D.C.. He introduced each performer, and entertained the crowd with his singing, beatboxing, and jokes during breaks.
“Aja Monet has been defined, yes defined, as the true definition of an artist,” Dallal said. “An internationally established poet, singer, performer, and educator, Monet’s craft is an in-depth reflection of emotional wisdom, skill, and activism.”
Aja Monet holds awards including the YWCA of the City of New York’s “One to Watch Award” and the Nuyorican Poet’s Café Grand Slam Title. She has also performed at the United Nations, as well as the NAACP’s Barack Obama Inaugural Event.
Following her opening poem, Monet said “I was invited to go to Palestine this past January, and I saw the complicitness as an American and the oppression of people across the globe, and it horrified me to not just be a poet speaking about the issues, but to hold myself accountable as a person who is recognizing her privilege as an American, as a woman.”
Many sensitive topics were explored by the artists, including sexual assault, drug abuse, violence, suicide, transphobia, racism, and more. Throughout different performances, audience members were seen stepping out of the auditorium because they were emotionally overwhelmed. Multiple poets also had difficulty beginning their pieces because they were holding back tears.
During these moments, as well as many others, the crowd would shout out, “Remember why you wrote it,” “Don’t be nice,” and “Tell us about it.”
The competition itself functioned through four rounds of performances. Within each round, the teams would select a poet to take the stage and perform.
The performers were given three minutes to present their piece, and were penalized points for exceeding their limit. The judges would scored them on a 10-point scale, with a maximum amount of 30 points available per round.
Prior to each round, a “calibration poet” would present; the calibration poet was intended to keep the judging at a consistent level throughout the event.
The audience was not quiet, and would snap, clap and shout during the performances when powerful sections of any performer’s poetry were spoken.
Drum beats were intermittently played throughout the event, amplifying the energy during moments between performances and during applause.
VCU’s team, known on campus as Good Clear Sound, is comprised of students Marvin Hodges, Em Allison, Joshua Braunstein, Saidu Tejan-Thomas, Rob Gibson, and Phen Bowman.