How slam poetry at Geneseo is Different Now

Geneseo's spoken word poets, Different Now, kicked off this semester's series of events with the Mudslinger's Poetry Slam competition and a dynamic performance by the visiting poets known as Raucous Ink.

The poetry slam, which took place on Jan. 28 at 7 p.m. in the KnightSpot, featured some veteran competitors including juniors Deb Bertlesman, who additionally hosted the event, and Ingamar Ramirez. Two more familiar faces to the poetry scene, junior Donat De La Cruz and freshman Patrick "Patches" Burke, as well as first-time competitor senior Jill Capewell rounded out the set list.

To begin the event, senior Jeremy Wind and junior Lauren Fox acted as "sacrificial poets" who read poems that allowed the judges to warm up and the audience to get comfortable with the slam poetry atmosphere. The slam was divided into two rounds during which the poets each recited one piece and were scored between zero and 10.

Ramirez, who was selected from a hat to begin the competition, started with a strong poem some may have recognized from last semester. In the poem, indicative of his best work, he creates a kind of magical world, which in this case becomes frightening with lines such as, "I want the last drawing of you to be shaded in crayon not outlined in chalk."

Next up was Bertlesman, who brought with her two brand new poems and vulnerability on stage that may have been startling to anyone who had seen her perform previously. Bertlesman was unable to recall the words of her first poem from memory, but recovered with a feminist poem so powerful and emotionally difficult, it was easy to forgive her when she ended with "Sorry that took so long."

The competition stayed close when De La Cruz astounded the audience with his cathartic recitation of "Silhouettes," and continued to tighten up as Burke, always the entertainer, impressed with his dynamic stage presence. Both tackled big topics with supreme delivery.

Finishing out the round, Capewell tried her hand at slam with a poem entitled "William Carlos Williams" and easily conquered all of its elements including wit, humor and a hard-hitting ending.

The second round followed the atmosphere of the first closely. Ramirez softened up with a thoughtful poem on "The Green Man;" this time his world was sylvan and quiet. Capewell proved herself even worthier with "Dear John."

Burke read a new poem, his "wish," which was immediately a hit with the audience. A bit puzzling was his mid-poem declaration "F--k cliché!" which he then followed up with a series of over-used metaphors. His sincerity and accessibility, though, won out as he took home the honor of champion for the night.

The slam was intended to decide the five poets who will compete in this weekend's regional slam at SUNY Binghamton, but all of the competitors will actually participate.

As slam poetry gains a presence on campus, Bertlesman said to expect more from the slam poets in the coming months, including a benefit for Haiti that will take place on Feb. 18. She also said that the group will seek formal college and Student Association recognition in the future and that interested students should contact her at

As part of the efforts to increase interest in slam poetry, the College Union and Activities, the Office of Multi-Cultural Affairs, Activities Commission and the Geneseo Slam Poets brought three professional poets to the KnightSpot on Feb. 3. Turnout was similar to recent poetry events, approaching 40 attendees.

Surprise guest and Rochester resident Rachel McKibbens (2009 Women of the World Slam Champion) joined Raucous Ink members Tristan Silverman (Women of the World Poetry Slam competitor and winner of the 2003 Beacon Award for Art Activism) and Tara Hardy (2002 Seattle Grand Slam Champion and 2009 National Poetry Slam competitor).

Ramirez and Bertlesman opened for the main acts that complimented the Geneseo talent, as well as one another throughout the course of the night. Especially after the first poem, a Silverman-Hardy duet, a sense of community in the spoken word arena was very apparent.

Both Silverman and Hardy, whose act has carried them across the nation, were spectacular from their introduction to the moment the show was over. They addressed topics including sex, sexuality, faith, relationships, politics, family and forgiveness with wit and an actually fresh sense of originality and without missing a beat.

Toward the end of their act, Silverman asked herself aloud if the audience could really be as attentive as it appeared; it was - the artists had enticed and enchanted listeners through their sheer self-offering through honest poetry.

The interlude by McKibbens was certainly unexpected but extremely fortunate. All of her pieces were excellent but her final untitled poem, addressed to her daughters, was austerely fantastic. McKibbens seemingly plain advise on love transformed into gospel on the stage as she ended with a tearful "Amen."