Some poetry is written to be read, but some is meant to be read aloud. Spoken word poems, also called performance or slam poetry, are crafted to be brought alive in front of an audience. Since 2001, the College Union Poetry Slam Invitational (CUPSI) has presented a platform for young poets to be heard.
Five Ohio State students recently won a preliminary competition, giving them the opportunity to represent OSU against other universities at the competition Chicago in the spring.
A fifth-year in marketing, Xavier Smith said he never thought he’d write a metaphor — but once he started, he couldn’t stop.
“It was the first time that I really started to express and start to process through a lot of the racism and prejudice that I experienced as a kid,” Smith said.
It wasn’t long before Smith threw caution to the wind and snatched a spot on OSU’s 2015 CUPSI team, which competed at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Virginia. He said his passion for racial issues and his experience of being biracial in America provoked his work to become more self-expressive, which landed him on the 2016 CUPSI team in Austin, Texas and the 2017 spring competition team.
Imagine a collection of poems rapped to a jazz beat. This is how Leonna Bell said she believes her words should be experienced. Bell, a second-year in criminology, combines music and poetry to create catchy work that she said is more receptive to her audience.
She found poetry — or as she said, poetry found her — when she needed an outlet to discuss critical issues happening in the world. When she needs a platform to challenge oppression, she uses her words to “speak about things that make people uncomfortable,” such as racism and inequality.
Bell is the youngest and newest addition to Ohio State’s CUPSI team.
This may be Anna Wiese’s third and final CUPSI, but what she’s most looking forward to is Chicago-style deep dish pizza.
Wiese, a fourth-year in psychology, said she has always been shy about her poetry, but Never Let Your Pen Dry (NLYPD), a student poetry organization on campus, coaxed her into sharing an original piece. Inspired by the outward encouragement, she said she thought, “Maybe I’ll do more of this.”
First time audience members may be shocked when Wiese takes the stage and swaps her bubbly and giggly persona for one of “anger and vulgarity.” Wiese said much of her poetry is rooted in feminism, and because it’s something she is inherently angry about, that emotion is conveyed through a loud, heated voice.
“Poetry has taught me to unapologetically share my voice. Specifically as a woman, you’re not supposed to be opinionated and if you are, you’re supposed to be polite and quiet about it,” Wiese said. “Loudly sharing my thoughts and emotions … has also become a part of my life outside of poetry. In my everyday life, I’m more outspoken and more opinionated; poetry has really helped me with that.”
Even as a fourth-year in English, Christina Szuch has a beef with traditional poetry.
“There is this pressure not to talk about yourself where as with slam poetry, it’s kind of the opposite. You talk about your own life experiences and I think that can be kind of cathartic” Szuch said. “Me personally, I would rather hear about somebody’s life experience than read about descriptions of nature.”
Her recent work has explored topics such as mental illness, relationship abuse and sexual assault. While many poems exist about these sensitive topics, Szuch said she believes that when more poems are written, stigma is diminished.
“I really like poems that give me chills because I can relate to them and somebody else is feeling what I’ve felt before,” Szuch said. “I want to have that effect, even if it’s just on one person in the audience.”
Anna Voelker’s passion for words paired with her enthusiasm for astrophysics lends itself to her writing and performance. As a secretly competitive person, she said spoken word is something she has always found to be thrilling.
“I’ve only ever competed through sports; I never knew you could do it with art also,” said Voelker, a fourth-year in astronomy.
Since then, she’s been a three-time veteran of CUPSI, a four-year member of NLYPD and now, the current president. Voelker said the community that forms around slam poetry makes her feel like she’s a part of something bigger than herself.
“Poetry draws a lot of beautiful, open-minded people because it’s a very expressive art form and a lot of people are looking for something that is exactly that,” she said.