By Benjamin Zander
The crowd’s claps and snaps echoed throughout Bliss Hall as students saluted the strengths of the poets who slammed down the walls.
On Friday, Sept. 23, the College’s creative writing club, INK, held its semesterly slam poetry competition, Slam Down the Walls. Five talented students competed in the event, each of whom recited three original pieces that were then judged by three randomly selected members of the audience. Following the competition, a winner was crowned: Rachel Smith, a freshman communication studies major.
“It’s really incredible,” Smith said after she clinched the win. “I had a bunch of people out to support me, so I was really happy that I could show them that I’m worth supporting.”
Like everyone who competed that night, Smith’s motivation for writing poetry goes beyond personal catharsis.
“A lot of my poetry is based on raising self-esteem and reflecting on myself,” Smith said. “I definitely use (poetry) as a platform to empower other women and bring attention to certain issues.”
In her three poems, Smith referenced a number of issues, such as gun violence, gender inequality, racial injustice and the sexualization of young girls.
Another poet was Ravin Mehta, a senior interactive multimedia major. Mehta, who was a returning competitor, took part in the poetry slam last semester, as well.
“I wanted to restore people’s belief in love,” said Mehta, who read romantic poetry for the competition.
Mehta impressed the crowd when he recited the remainder of his first poem from memory after accidentally deleting it from his phone mid-performance. Mehta later described the poetry slam as a good outlet for him to share how he feels “deep down.”
Kyle Siegel, INK’s co-president, the competition’s emcee and a senior English and biology double major, had similar feelings.
“Slam Down the Walls is a platform for students to perform their original material in a supportive environment and become more comfortable with public readings of personal content,” Siegel said.
Next to compete was another freshman, Missy Guerrero, a journalism and professional writing major. Guerrero’s poetry touched upon a few topics, ranging from heartbreak to “first world issues.”
“My general message was to show other people that it’s possible to move forward,” Guerrero said. “I wanted people to understand that heartbreak is a horrible experience, but you can grow from it.”
“With my last poem, I wanted to touch base on society as a whole,” Guerrero continued. “I wanted to show others that there’s so many beautiful things out there once you actually open your eyes.”
Maria DeGenova, a freshmen visual arts major, took the stage next. Her poems centered around her childhood and adolescence — her second reading was about how she felt when two of her friends tried to take their own lives. With her poetry, DeGenova hopes to get the gears turning.
“Words mean different things to everyone, so I hope just to get people thinking and maybe even relating to what I talk about,” DeGenova said. “Maybe other people will start writing, too.”
The event itself left DeGenova in awe.
“To see so many people sharing their ideas in one spot, ideas that I’ve never really heard people share so openly and creatively, is such an honor and quite eye-opening,” DeGenova said. “Live events like this really capture the purpose of slam poetry like nothing else can.”
The final competitor of the night was Lexi Guzman, a freshman psychology and women’s and gender studies double major.
The first poem Guzman read was about remaining resilient despite dealing with depression. Her second poem compared being a girl to a battleground, where she pointed out how difficult it can be to grow up as a female in a world that often fails to value a girl’s self-respect, self-esteem, hopes and dreams. The final poem she read focused on struggling to deal with a friend’s descent into drug addiction.
“My goal for someone listening to me would be for them to take away something personal to them,” Guzman said. “Hopefully (they) make a connection with the topics I’m speaking about — mental illness, feminism, addiction, etc.”
Like many others, Guzman has found great value in the art form.
“Slam poetry is great because I can talk about something personal,” Guzman said. “But someone listening can hear what I say and apply it to their life.”
Lucky for Guzman, plenty of people were listening. There weren’t enough chairs to seat the huge audience, so students sat on the floor and stood at the back of the room.
“I always really like Slam Down the Walls, and this semester’s in particular was very good,” said Maria Printon, a senior self-designed cognitive science major. “The competition was super close this semester — it was very exciting.”
As winner of the competition, Smith, who won by a single point, will be opening with her poetry when nationally acclaimed slam poet, Danez Smith, comes to the College during the spring semester as part of INK’s Visiting Writer Series.