Amid a slew of protests over the weekend, roughly 100 students came together to support spoken word at the Yale Slam Poetry Competition Saturday.
Both novice and experienced poets vied for a spot on the Yale’s 2017 slam poetry team traveling to the national College Unions Poetry Slam Invitational, which will take place in Chicago this April. More than a dozen students from across the College, including some who are not affiliated with spoken word groups on campus, delivered performances on topics ranging from navigating racial and gender identity to grappling with loneliness. Poets wove personal anecdotes into emotional, three-minute performances. The event was organized by spoken word clubs Oye!, TEETH, WORD and Voke and was open to all students.
Sophie Dillon ’17, who performs slam poetry with WORD and is one of five finalists moving onto the national competition, noted the intimacy of delivering a spoken word poem.
“Strangers know more about me than my close friends,” Dillon said. Dillon’s first poem discussed depression, while her second was a satirical letter to her future daughter.
She said the vulnerability required for the art form inspired her, and she hopes her work will do the same for others.
Yale has not been represented in CUPSI since 2014, when the team placed ninth out of more than 60 colleges. For the past two years, however, funding constraints prevented the team from attending nationals.
During Saturday’s competition in the Morse-Stiles Crescent Underground Theater, five audience members selected randomly at the start of the program scored performers on a 1–10 scale. The highest scorers went on to the second round, and the top five finishers formed the Yale slam poetry team.
Lola Hourihane ’20, another finalist and member of Voke, incorporated wit and finesse into their poem on queerness and religion.
Many audience members, including Miranda Rector ’20, who attended to cheer on Hourihane, were more interested in listening to the speakers’ stories than in the competition.
Finalist Sidney Saint-Hilaire ’20 noted the University’s overwhelming support for spoken word.
“Yale seems to have a really vibrant spoken word scene,” Saint-Hilaire said. “Every time there’s a spoken word event, the house seems packed, whether it’s Sudler [Recital Hall] or the FKA [Calhoun] theater, and that gives me a lot of appreciation for the people who come and support our groups”
Event organizer and Oye! member Peter Chung ’18, a former YTV editor at the News, praised the flair of the freshman poets and noted the competition’s good turnout. The freshmen cohort had an especially strong showing, comprising four of the five finalists on the 2017 slam team.
Arya Sundaram’ 20 and Kamau Walker ’20 will join Dillon, Hourihane and Saint-Hilaire this April in Chicago. The team anticipates many hours of rehearsals in the lead up to the competitions.
Saint-Hilaire said while he does not yet know what themes the team will draw on, he is eager to explore topics he has not pursued creatively in the past. Sundarum added that she thinks the current political climate will have at least some bearing on the upcoming performances.
“Poets are by nature political beings, and that’s especially the case for spoken word poetry,” Sundaram said. “Also, spoken word poetry to me is defined by its ‘demand to be heard,’ and because of the political climate, there are so many stories that now more than ever must be said aloud.”
Temple University took first place in CUPSI 2016.
Correction, Jan. 31: An earlier version of this article used the wrong pronouns to refer to Lola Hourihane ’20.