I’ve always pictured poetry slams as gatherings of brooding individuals clad in dark colors and berets, somberly snapping their fingers while one poet presents a piece riddled with excessive literary devices too deep for the “average” person to understand. After attending the Geneseo Poets’ Society’s Sizzle & Slam competition on Feb. 21 in Sturges Auditorium, my perspective on slams has completely changed. The event featured eight incredibly talented individuals who delivered emotionally raw, intimate pieces with a remarkable sense of openness and passion in an atmosphere filled with heart-warming encouragement from fellow poetry enthusiasts.
Each poet expressed different emotions and topics with incredible intensity, as they kept each piece under three minutes long. I was utterly absorbed in their performances and in awe of the guts it took to reveal these sentiments and personal struggles with such honesty to a group of strangers.
Geneseo Slam Poets held the competition to determine which four poets would represent its organization on a slam team at the College Unions Poetry Slam Invitational in Colorado in March.
Five audience volunteers received scorecards and ranked the pieces from 1 to 10, with 10 being a piece that “grips you by the heart,” according to junior John “Stardog” Otruba, one of the slam emcees. The poets with the highest scores were selected to go to CUPSI. They also moved on to a second round to determine the sole winner of the Sizzle & Slam.
Otruba and fellow emcee senior Conrad Baker did an excellent job of encouraging audience participation.
“People are exposing very intimate parts of themselves and becoming very vulnerable. For the medium to succeed, you need the audience to get involved,” Otruba said.
The audience rose to the occasion, snapping, clapping and cheering out for lines that resonated with them. The sense of interconnectedness between the crowd and the poets was beautiful; strangers united through the bonds of human experience.
One poet who qualified for CUPSI in the slam, junior Sarah Diaz, emphasized the importance of this connection.
“There’s no better feeling than for the audience to feel me,” she said.
Along with Diaz, sophomore Greg Stewart, junior Josh Roychowdhury and senior Josh “Dreamboat” Bauscher will compete at CUPSI. Bauscher was the Sizzle & Slam winner, captivating the crowd with his powerful “PSA” to America and a piece about a woman poet in Afghanistan who committed suicide after being brutally beaten by the Taliban.
“The point is not the points, but the poetry,” Diaz said. “It’s awesome whenever a poet gets up on stage, no matter what the numbers are; it’s ballsy, and people should always be applauded for that.”