Can I be honest? The first poetry slam I ever went to, I was the secretary of a club at Southern CT State University that organized it and I had no idea what I was in for. I thought poetry and points or something, okay. The club was called Poetic Vibe...sound familiar? Anyway, that night in a lecture hall on campus, I fell deeper in love with poetry. There wasn't enough of us to fill a room that could easily seat over a 100 people but the room felt full. I didn't know much about the poetry scene in New Haven but poets came from off campus to perform as well. We had judges like any slam but these judges were curated and gave commentary on the poems. This is before poets performing poems with 100k views on YouTube or poets going semi-viral on TikTok. What I'm talking about is pre-Facebook! And it was fresh. It was Hip-Hop and consciousness. It was urgently live and it was the first time I can reference what it looks like for poets to leave it all on the stage. A little sweat on the forehead. Breath control. Hands cutting and holding air. Voice from the chest. Language and spit. Five syllable rhythmic rhyme and tongues landing on the beat of the line. Audacious. I was in awe of this breakdance with words.
After that I wanted in and I signed up for my first slam. I spent so much time working on a poem called "Hypocritical Christians" and practiced how I'd say every line. At the time, I thought this poem was the best I'd ever written. I didn't make it to the second round and one of the judge's commentary was that it felt too preachy. That messed me up for a bit. Most of my public experience with poetry up until college happened in church. Consequently, the content of my poems heavily weighed on being a Christian and all things church related. I hadn't found my actual voice yet and all I had done when I finally took the time to contemplate the feedback, was take what I wrote normally and dropped it into a new cadence. That feedback pushed me to explore other subjects that I'd be willing to share on stage. My poems began to sound a little more human, a little less judgmental every time. It took multiple slams for me to make it only to the second round but I did it and for me, making it to the second round was like winning.
I'm pretty sure I would have always continued to write poetry but slam is the kind of competitive sport that sharpens choices and style. I've got three minutes to make a judge think this poem is a ten. I've got three minutes to show the audience why I wrote the poem in the first place. No introductions. No disclaimers. Just me, the mic, three minutes. And before it happens and at the end of it all, win or lose, I've got to believe my poems deserve to be there on that stage every time. It takes battle rap bravado, blues like vulnerability, athlete's breath and heartfelt honesty. In slam, I've had to learn to trust the poem and to trust myself. It's a lesson I am still learning. But if I have anything to say to that 18 year old freshman, her mouth slightly ajar, her ears perched at every word, her mind swirling around in poems-the music of it all pounding in her heart, I'd say hold on to the excitement of this moment in this lecture hall. This kind of discovery is the magic passion is made of. Let it lead the way. You make it past the second round again and again and again...You are deserving.