Within the past 20 years or so, slam poetry has soared to the top of the underground artistic hierarchy. It’s typically associated with a café-type setting: a ubiquitous meeting place for poetic performers, their colleagues and their admirers. But what about on a college campus? Enter junior Greg Stewart. Stewart has been a part of Geneseo’s vibrant poetic community since his freshman year and is now respected on campus as one of the leading talents among his peers. What he writes, however, is not poetry as it is traditionally known. Instead, Stewart prefers slam poetry and spoken word as his own methods of expression.
To understand Stewart, one must first understand slam poetry. “[Slam] bridges the gap between music and literature for an expressive art form,” he said.
Slam is a competitive art form in which a poet reads or recites original work that is then evaluated by the audience or previously selected judges. This simple definition does not capture the full scope of the art form, which has polarized the world of poetry. According to Stewart’s perspective, slam brings young poets together as well as political and social issues into the foreground.
Stewart has written in various forms from a young age, occasionally experimenting with fiction and page poetry. He now believes he has found his niche within the spoken word community. “There are plenty of places for people who are interested in writing and literature, and for people who are interested in music,” he said. “The spoken word poetry club is for people who maybe don’t know how to put them together.”
Growing up in an artistic family, he found himself influenced by the music of his classically trained brother.
“He’s always been lecturing me about music, and always been playing music around me since I was very young,” Stewart said. “[I] had a sense of music for a long time, but lacked rhythm. I started to gain that rhythm when I picked up poetry.”
While the musical and literary elements initially led Stewart to slam and spoken word poetry, the performance of poetry itself has moved to the foreground of his interests throughout his career.
“The tone, the tenor and the certain emphasis you can use when you’re using your voice versus when you’re just looking at words on a page really distinguishes [slam and page poetry],” Stewart said.
The performance component of slam and spoken word has provided him with a new and different sense of expression. “The biggest thing I try to do is tell a story that can stick in someone’s head even if all the words just fly by,” he said. The audience’s reaction is also an integral part of Stewart’s work. “The emotional side is important to me. To make someone have that emotional response is a huge part of what I do when I’m writing,” Stewart said.
The community of poets on campus has also been a large part of Stewart’s life at Geneseo and an influence on his work. The group helps to create a very positive, collaborative environment that Stewart notes is great for anyone interested in writing.
“I get to hear other people perform, I get to hear other ideas, get feedback on my own work and give feedback for other people,” he said. “Slam helps lyricists, writers and anyone who likes music and poetry together––it’s a fusion of the two.”