The spotlight shone on 2009 alumnus James Merenda as he stood at the mic on the floor of the KnightSpot Tuesday evening, staring out in disbelief at a crowd of his former classmates.
"I come back to Geneseo for the first time that school's in session," he said, as way of introduction, "and they pay me!" Merenda then launched into his first of several slam poems, eschewing the microphone and shouting the words out into the audience.
After graduating from Geneseo last spring, Merenda, a native of Copiague, N.Y. and one of the founders of the Geneseo's DifferentNow team when it was formed in spring 2009, dove into New York City's slam poetry scene. Merenda is now a member of the Intangible Collective, a group of 29 spoken-word artists, musicians, photographers and other performance-driven artists based in upstate New York.
Merenda came to campus with fellow Intangible artist Sierra DeMulder. Originally from Unadilla, N.Y., DeMulder now resides in Minneapolis, Minn. and was recently a part of the winning team at the 2009 National Poetry Slam competition. DeMulder also has a book of poetry coming out from Write Bloody Publishing, a company founded by Derrick Brown, a prominent slam poet who paid a visit to Geneseo last month as part of the Elephant Engine High Dive Revival.
Junior Deb Bertlesman, co-founder of the Different Now Slam Poets, brought Merenda and DeMulder to Geneseo in collaboration with the slam poetry team, MiNT magazine and the College Union and Activities.
Merenda performed several slam poems, including one titled "Karma Suture," in which he articulately and fearlessly delivered lines like, "There will be fractures we must face no matter how tightly we wrap ourselves in binding," garnering a series of whoops and snaps from the audience. Merenda received laughs from the crowd with his short and sweet piece, tellingly titled "Advice for Hipsters." His performance seemed to go too quickly, if only because the crowd was left wanting more after his dark and moving final piece addressed to journalist Hunter S. Thompson, "Counselor."
DeMulder then took the stage, first performing a poem and then adding, "I'm warning you, it's going to get a little bloody up here," as she began to attack darker subjects such as school shootings and the stifling nature of the small town in which she grew up. DeMulder then moved to a lighter poem that was funny yet bizarrely touching as she described having sex through the apocalypse, an adventure that included the line, "We could be the most beautiful wreckage in all this smoke."
Throughout her time on stage, DeMulder managed to be both violently passionate and sweet, deftly moving between the two modes as she began a poem about her experiences with bipolar and borderline personality disorder. "This poem was one that I had to write as a way to process it," she said.
During her act, DeMulder addressed the importance of artistic performances like these. "This is awesome!" she said. "Just be aware that this is a delicate, beautiful creature and if you support it, it will thrive. This is a form of communication."
"I never would have imagined this kind of audience, and it feels great to be back," Merenda said after the performance. He cited the encouragement that Geneseo has given to writing programs over the last few years as an advantage of the campus community, mentioning the support of the creative writing major, residential initiatives such as the Writers House and the creation of Geneseo's own slam poetry team. "I couldn't have seen this when I started here," he said.
The Different Now poets are planning a number of performances in the future, including a slam in December to recruit team members for the regional slam poetry competition. Meetings for the team are Sundays at 1 p.m. in the third floor classroom of the Writers House.