It’s no secret that slam poetry leans towards the political, the emotional and the controversial, but this weekend’s Grand Slam, hosted by Slam! at NYU at Kimmel’s Rosenthal Center, was a slam for the ages. In the wake of the results of the presidential election and given that much of NYU’s slam poetry club identifies as either a person of color or a member of the LGBTQ community, there were definitely a lot of stewing opinions waiting to be let out.
The event was hosted by poet and actress Ashley August, who is currently the host of the famed Bowery Poetry Slam and was New York’s 2013 Youth Poet Laureate. She was also the evening’s featured artist, and between the second and third rounds of the competition, she performed three short but moving pieces of her own (including her hit “Roaches,” an epic and gratifying takedown of her exes). August’s wit and joviality were occasionally what kept the night from descending into a dark and depressing night of performance. This is not to say that the poems were too heavy, however, merely that in conjunction with the eruption of hate following the results of presidential election, a little light-heartedness was more than appreciated, particularly from someone as effervescent as August.
The slam was also tense in part due to the fact that the five best performers of the night would spend the next months working together to prepare both individual and group poems for this year’s College Unions Poetry Slam Invitational in Chicago, the crowning event of college slam poetry clubs. Judges at the slams are randomly selected from the crowd, making sure each judge had no personal affiliation with any competitor. NYU has competed in CUPSI for the last several years, placing third in the preliminary round last April.
Throughout the three rounds of Sunday’s competition, poets had pieces that plucked the most aching of heartstrings, from sexual assault of children (with beautiful pieces by both Annalisa Garofalo and Maria Polzin) to fat-shaming (Amirah Rivers) to Islamophobia (Khalid Abudawas) to a whole load of poems celebrating the indelible magic of black women. As is the nature of slam poetry, each piece was filled to the brim with personal experience and passion. As the night wore on, the depth of each piece became nearly uncomfortable as the performers became more and more earnest, gasping, crying and even singing during their pieces.
The last round in particular brought out the deep, dark, dirty laundry of the poets. It was the fiercest round of competition, and clearly no holds were barred. Everything from Michael Frazier’s poem that used the “Indoors” song from “Spongebob Squarepants” to talk about police brutality to Annalisa Garofalo’s piece about the United States’ violence toward indigenous Americans to Ernest Tjia’s poem about (or rather, not about) suicide brought both stunned silences and appreciative snaps from the crowd. Not a single poem failed to receive a perfect score of 10 from at least one of the three remaining judges.
All in all, though, the judges fulfilled their duty and the scores were tallied. NYU will be represented by Rivers, Frazier, Abudawas, Garofalo and Myles Golden this year at CUPSI, with Golden taking first for the night (Tjia will the be the team’s alternate). Judging by the talent onstage Sunday night, they won’t disappoint.
Email Hailey Nuthals at [email protected]