Slam poets battle for spot on traveling competition team

SEPTEMBER 29, 2011


Students perform to land a spot in the Slam Nahuatl team. Photo by Chris Conway.

Campus slam poetry group, Slam Nahuatl at VCU, held its first “Ram Slam” of the year at the Shafer Street Playhouse on Monday. At the event, poets competed for a spot on the team competing in next year’s College Unions Poetry Slam Invitational in La Verne, Calif.

Several VCU student poets performed spoken-word works onstage before the Richard Newdick Theatre audience, who would snap their fingers and cheer their approval of entire pieces or individual lines. Five judges – picked at random from audience members, to avoid bias – then deliberated before revealing their score for each poet.

The College Unions Poetry Slam Invitational (CUPSI), which will take place April 18–21 of next year, offers the opportunity for campuses with slam poetry groups – both new and existing – to compete for top honors, while also sharing their talent with the collegiate poetry slam community.

At Monday’s Ram Slam, the first of several this year, students competed for “points” – five for first place, three for second place, etc. – which they could accumulate over the course of other Slam Nahuatl events. The poets with the most points in late February next year will be selected to join the CUPSI competition team.

After two “sacrificial poets” (Hamilton Graziano and Chris Johnson) performed, allowing the judges to orient themselves with the grading system, the real competition began.

The first round featured Lance Kelly speaking his first episode of “Radio Noir,” while Rob Gibsun (also known as Robaloo) wove a story of a crack-cocaine user wasting away. Kristine Hadeed and her lyrical criticism of the education system followed. A poet identified only as Chris aka Son Gohan came next, telling a tale of a robber learning to make an honest living. A.J. Miller, who was performing for the first time, shared three poems from her journal.

The competitors each showed their own style in both writing and delivery as they performed. None of the performers used the microphone handed to them, instead letting their voices carry through the auditorium.

Robaloo used his hands to illustrate the destructive nature of gambling: “A spade is an upside down heart with a thorn in it,” he said in his performance.

In round two, with first-timer Miller eliminated by the judges, Kelly spoke about a “caterpillar crawling cross the hazy August sky.” Hadeed spoke from the point of view of an unplanned fetus: “I’d rather not know you than know you and know you never wanted me.” Robaloo finished up the round with his performance about “constipated bigots who can’t give a s—.”

Once finished, the scores were added and all the performers were called to stage, where it was announced that Robaloo had emerged the first place winner of Ram Slam. Hadeed placed second, with Chris aka Son Gohan in third.

Slam Nahuatl, which takes is name in part from the Aztec word for “good clear sound,” celebrates the art of spoken word with monthly competitions like Ram Slam, while also holding fundraising events like their End Hunger Slam.

“Last year, we fed a single mother of two for an entire year,” said Jefferson Harris, sophomore communication arts major and Ram Slam emcee.

Harris said that this year, the organization’s goals include feeding seven different families and sending five people who suffer brain injuries to Camp Bruce McCoy, a youth program of the Eastern Virginia Medical School in Chesapeake, Va.

The next Ram Slam is scheduled for Monday, Oct. 31, and is tentatively planned to double as a costume contest.

This article was originally published in The Commonwealth Times.

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