I am so happy that I attended San Diego City College’s Poetry Slam the evening of Thursday, November 29th. It was my first poetry slam and I loved it! The event was sponsored by the First Year Experience program (FYE), which helps first year students stay in college and eventually graduate. The proceeds of the evening were all helping fund books and other supplies necessary for the students of FYE. I happily paid my $8 ticket knowing it was going towards an admirable cause.
The actual slam was held in the far side of the cafeteria (they separated a portion of the cafeteria from the rest and dimmed the lights). Although, I was aware I was in a cafeteria, the setting felt intimate. Tables were set up around the room with faux candles in the middle. There was also a DJ to the right of the stage that appropriately pumped up the crowd and set the mood for each performer. In the crowd, there was a healthy balance of students, people of the community, and supporters of the performing artists.
The poetry readings of the evening kicked off with a few local poets and spoken word artist. My favorites were Urban Voodoo and Robyn Grayson. Urban Voodoo performed a piece inspired by Common’s “I Used to Love Her,” titled “I Used to Love Her, too.” The piece mostly focused on the negative, corrupting influence rap and R&B have on people in the African-American community. Robyn Grayson was generous enough to bring demos for everyone in attendance. The two pieces he performed concerned the misrepresentation of the Black community. His first piece focused on the commercialization of music; the message of the piece was to use music and poetry as a tool for positivity. In his second piece “Lost Child”, Grayson spoke about the consequences of engaging in reckless sex and the aftermaths of the decision.
Finally, the poetry contest started. There were three rounds with each contestant allotted three minutes to perform an original poem. The first round featured ten poets, with five moving on to the following round. After the second round, the top three poets moved on to compete for the $100 prize. The poets were not allowed any props or costumes. A panel of poets scored the performance on a scale of 1-6 with 1 being the worst poem and 6 an earth-shattering performance.
The Slam featured a range of poets and poems. Most that decided to perform were performance poets or spoken word poets. Of my favorites were Zo Weir, Shawna Johnson, Kasha, Carla, and a poet who performed in Spanish. Zo Weir performed my favorite piece of the round. It was a Beatles-musically inspired piece. I loved the way she infused her own lines with lyrics from songs like “Yellow Submarine” and “America Pie.” Shawna Johnson was without a doubt the crowd favorite of the night. Passion was pouring out of that girl’s soul every time she took to the mic! I believed every word that came out of her mouth. Kasha was a suave, intelligent poet. Her strength was less, so the emotional delivery of the piece was lacking a bit, but the construction of her poems made up for it. I found them to be aesthetically pleasing to the ear. She had perhaps the strongest diction in the field that night. Carla, the eventual winner, had a really distinct voice. I thought her little Hispanic twang was cute. I found her pieces to be the most diverse as she tackled the American-Mexican border issue in the first round, performed a feminist piece in the second round, and a poem concerning domestic abuse in the third round. I thought she was the rightful winner, but I loved—loved Shawna Johnson.
Ever since I was introduced to spoken word about two years ago, I have been a big fan. But I had never attended a live event until Thursday evening. There is a raw truthfulness in spoken word that I enjoy because it does not strive to sound “pretty”—it’s real in the purest sense. And sitting in that room, I felt the profound effect that words and poetry can have upon an individual and a community. I am once again in awe of the ability of poetry to impact and temper feelings.
Editor: Candice Leung