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4 OSU students to travel to NYC, compete in College Union Poetry Slam Invitational

AJ King / Lantern reporter

Quartez Harris and Jana Al-Akhras practice all the hand motions and ad-libs that can help bring their words to life in the form of slam poetry. The poem is a collaborative piece about the difficulties of growing up in urban Chicago and the rough confines of Gaza City, Palestine, and the pair is preparing to head to competition in New York.

The College Union Poetry Slam Invitational (CUPSI) is scheduled to be held Wednesday through Saturday at Barnard College in New York, NY. The poetry slam is set to bring in 50 colleges and universities from across the country to compete against each other as slam teams. The competition consists of a preliminary round in which all schools will participate and eventually will be cut down to a final 10 schools that will compete to win the contest. 

Ohio State is sending four students to CUPSI this year, and the team will be performing the final versions of their poems for students at OSU Monday at the Hale Black Cultural Center from 8 to 9 p.m. 

The OSU CUPSI team is lead by Harris, a fourth-year in social work, who is competing in the poetry slam for a second time. Harris is a Columbus native who has experience performing throughout the city in venues such as The Columbus Cultural Arts Center to go along with his published manuscript titled ‘An Imperfect Brain.’ Max Buck, a first-year in computer science and engineering, Soz Zangana, a fourth-year in human development and family science, and Al-Akhras, a graduating third-year in international studies, fill out the rest of the team.

Harris is the president of the student organization Never Let Your Pen Dry, which sponsors CUPSI. The group brought poet William Evans to help coach the team. On Saturdays the CUPSI team practices in the performance space at Baker West Hall. Evans’ presence has been a huge inspiration to the team, Al-Akhras said.

“Will is just amazing. Every time I see him perform and every time I hear him perform I’m absolutely blown away,” Al-Akhras said. “He’s really helpful and willing to work through the writer’s process with you and doesn’t really chastise you for being behind.” 

Al-Akhras’ Palestinian heritage has greatly influenced her work for the upcoming poetry slam. She said she believes Palestinians have always been large proponents of non-violent resistance and one of the biggest forms of non-violent resistance is poetry. Al-Akhras originally wrote all three of her solo performance pieces about Palestine, but decided to switch it up last minute, changing her third piece to one concerning her identity as a Arab-American Muslim. 

The writing process has been stressful but worth it, she said.

“It’s forced me to write, which I don’t do very often,” Al-Akhras said. “It’s a painful process but it’s a good one.” 

Buck, the youngest member of the CUPSI team, was thrown into the fold a little later into the process because two original team members dropped out. But Buck said he is very excited about his opportunity to perform some of his newest material in New York. Buck’s latest poem, “Paint,” is a piece told through the lens of a little girl. Buck also has experience on a slam poetry team because he participated for three years on his high school’s travelling slam team in Cleveland.

“My mom was an English teacher and my parents always read to me growing up. I always loved literature and reading,” Buck said. 

One of the biggest focuses during the final practices leading up to the event is the hand motions and synchronization of group poems. 

“With words you’re trying to paint a picture in peoples’ minds, but with the added extra hand motion and showing people that you are passionate about what you’re saying and then attempting to convey that through your actions is extremely helpful in painting the picture we’re desperate to paint with our words,” Al-Akhras said.

Harris said he does not want his poetry passion to stop after the team’s trip to New York.

“To know that I’m making a difference through poetry … I want to continue to work, write, speak, perform,” Harris said. 

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