The contemporary hybrid art form known as slam poetry has finally burst onto the Geneseo scene and established itself, thanks to the freshly packaged student collective dubbed Different Now.
While individual poets have long been performing at Geneseo, a group eventually coalesced last semester when separate talents collided in The Living and Dead Poetry Slam, held Oct. 25. Resident assistant and sophomore Deborah Bertlesman organized the event.
By chance, Geneseo was already scheduled to host a regional tournament on Feb. 21 as part of the Association of College Unions International, an organization that works with Poetry Slam Inc. to unite colleges in a national poetry slam and set official regulations for similar events.
Different Now conveniently kicked off their union at the ACUI Region 2 Conference at Geneseo, finishing in fourth place. The team fell to the already reputable SUNY teams of New Paltz and Oneonta. They defeated Niagara University's squad by a wide margin and lost to Binghamton by less than a point.
Different Now is comprised of six members. Senior James Merenda, already known on campus for his poetic abilities, leads the team as coach with his competitive wisdom and spoken word convention.
Merenda, a slam poet for several years now, has competed regionally in solo slams and is characterized by what Bertlesman described as heavy imagery and subtle social themes. His poetry is also marked by literary allusion and scholarly influence. "You can definitely tell he is an English major," Bertlesman said.
Bertlesman adds an ironically feminine presence to the team: many of her poems focus on women, family and sex.
Bertlesman, who only began slamming over the past year, has effortlessly morphed into a spoken word artist; her poetic capacity is potent. Citing her influences as Merenda and renowned slam poet Andrea Gibson, Bertlesman combines imagery with sociopolitical issues in an upfront manner.
Long-time slam poet senior Dan Freund brings authority to the team. His straightforward - sometimes biting - rhymes are assertively hip-hop inspired and often very direct in their criticism of social movements. Freund candidly delivers his lines, which are punctuated by accessibility to the audience, while remaining deeply shrewd.
Other members include sophomore neophyte Ingamar Ramirez and seniors Nabil Vargha and Steve Sanfillipo. Of the three, only Ramirez will join the team in their next event, the National Poetry Slam held in Philadelphia, Penn. from March 12 to 14.
To Bertlesman, Geneseo will go to nationals "more for experience and inspiration than for competition." But given the group's promise and individual talents, Different Now's future looks bright.
In particular, the team piece "Space Invaders," a glaring look at technological mediation of relationships and isolated experience with the Internet, showcases each member's abilities with spoken word.
Though the team seems to have marched into the world of slam poetry with ease, the road to nationals has not been smooth. Members have collected money through generous donations, a bake sale and a performance by SUNY Binghamton slam alumnus Zev Gottdiener, whose untraditional and innovative style impressed the crowd. Yet the team is still hurting for funding and welcomes donations.
According to Bertlesman, Different Now will soon seek official college recognition. Additionally, they will focus much of their efforts toward getting the spoken word out at Geneseo.
When we come back from nationals, we're going to pile it on," Bertlesman said. "Expect more visiting poets and more of our own sets."