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Destler Dodge

What exactly is slam poetry?

It's a worthy question, as the art form itself is relatively young; its early incarnations appeared in the mid-80s, and it is still draped in a veil of obscurity. Simply put, slam poetry is poetry at its most audacious. Often compared to freestyle hip-hop, with some poets even utilizing comparable rhythmic attributes, slam poetry is essentially competitive poetry. Poets are paired against one another, and the crowd decides the victor based on lyrical skill as well as delivery and overall presentation. It is an art form often drenched with a political, gender, racial and even religious consciousness, creating a form of artistic expression which borrows from traditional poetry, literature, spoken word and contemporary music to create a new beast in and of itself. RIT's own slam poetry team, Mental Graffiti, is taking a stand to carry this torch of free exchange of ideas.

"We started around four or five years ago," said Mental Graffiti's President Michelle Sason. "But recently, we've really started to see a take-off in popularity, averaging about 25 people per meeting."

Sason, a member of Mental Graffiti since 2013, describes the club's monthly "slam" events, held in the SAU, as a venue for students to freely compose original pieces in front of an audience, as well as a chance to hone their skills through competition.

"The way it works is that the early portion of the event is essentially an open mic. People can come and perform covers, musical numbers, spoken word, whatever," said Sason. "Following that is the slam portion, where club members compete against one another."

While the venue is open to a free exchange of ideas, an air of competitiveness still lingers.

"Whoever the winner is of a round is picked to be on our team," said Sason. "These are the people we choose to compete at the College Union Poetry Slam Invitational."

The College Union Poetry Slam Invitational, or CUPSI, is an annual event held by the Association of College Unions International which pits the best of the best of college slam poets against one another. It will be held this year at Virginia Commonwealth University, and Sason, who competed in the 2013 CUPSI at Barnard College, holds high hopes.

"It seems like more and more people are getting interested, and a lot of great poets are showing up at meetings," said Sason. "This year, I believe we have a chance of making it to the finals."

Sason, a native of Oneanta, NY – a town with a vibrant slam poetry culture – found inspiration to become a poet growing up from being surrounded by them.

"SUNY Oneanta just has an amazing slam poetry team," said Sason. "When I was in high school, I used to go to their events and just get so much inspiration from watching them perform. Plus, I always had a love for all things literature, from Virginia Woolf to Shel Silverstein, because who doesn't love Shel Silverstein?"

Mental Graffiti continues to make their mark as a much welcomed contribution to RIT culture in a scene budding with new life. With workshops held every Thursday at 8 in room 1500 of the SAU as well as open mics held towards the end of each month of the school year, the opportunities are nearly endless to get out there and get your slam on.