At their first ever slam on October 21st, the NYU Slam Poetry Team called fifteen NYU student poets to the stage to spit emotional, fiery, hilarious, poignant and altogether powerful spoken word poems in hopes of being named a member. The slam opened with featured performer Mahogany L. Brown, a respected and decorated slam poet and curator of the Nuyorican Poets Cafe, who read her own spoken word poems along with excerpts from her new tweet-based book, #Dear Twitter (a sample: “Dear Justin Bieber: ask the Backstreet Boys and N*SYNC how this movie ends”). Student poets took the mic under low lighting next and were judged by select audience members on a scale of 1-10.
Slam poetry has been said to exist since the mid 1980s, and is now an international art form. Mahogany L. Brown, or “Mobrowne” to fellow slam poets, remarked that “slam poetry is not the Walt Whitman, fucking Poetry 101…This is the goosebumps, the ‘Oh shit they’re telling my story right there!’” She wasn’t kidding. Each poet took the stage with their own original work (often memorized), some so petite that they were dwarfed by the microphone stand. Yet from each NYU student came a booming voice speaking — sometimes shouting — thoughtful, intelligent and clever poetry, wowing audience members and faculty alike. The passion behind each student poet was enough to move a packed room in the Palladium MPR to collective snaps, hoots, and at times, tears. Many audience members admitted that the words and performances of certain poets gave them the chills.
As each poet auditioned for their chance to join the NYU Slam Poetry Team, I couldn’t help but notice fellow NYU Local writer Eric Silver, one of the founding members of the team, beaming in the corner of the MPR. The NYU team is ranked 13th in the nation currently, but is vehemently pursuing a higher ranking. The problem that the team faces this year is that it lacks university funding — the NYU Slam Poetry Team must first exist for a year as a club before NYU allots them any money for activities. For a team looking to send five poets to the championships in April, this is a costly burden. At the slam, a hat was passed around the room, encouraging cash donations to go towards flying the selected poets to Michigan to represent NYU at the championships. But Pass-The-Hat could only collect so much, and a major part of the travel expenses for the April trip will most likely come out of the team members’ own pockets.
In spite of the cost concerns, the first Open Slam for the NYU Slam Poetry Team was an awe-inspiring success. Silver said that his goal for the team is to “spread slam poetry. NYC is a hotbed for poetry, slam or otherwise, and its about time slam poetry was brought to campus. We all love it, and we want NYU to love it too.” Based on the audience reaction at the first open slam, NYU students are falling in love with slam poetry — just as Silver hoped for.
The next slam is Thursday, November 4th at Palladium and will feature Jon Sands along with the Final Tryouts for the NYU Slam Poetry Team. For more information, check out the Facebook event invite here.