3 Minutes and 9 Seconds for this Team to Grab your Attention
by Juan Lachapelle | published Mar. 22nd, 2014
Practicing upwards to three times a week, building relationships that last a life time and doing it all in the name of slam poetry is RIT’s Poetry Slam Team, who is headed to the national competition in Boulder, Colorado. The team consists of Chris Ketant, a fifth year Software Engineering major, Kwando Opong-Mensah, a first year graduate student in Electrical Engineering, Chris Scott, a fifth year Chemical Engineer, Jjvon Hardware, a fifth year Computer Engineering major, and Michelle Sason, a second year Fine Art Photography major. Coming from different majors and backgrounds, they train rigorously and promote slam to the rest of the RIT community.
Slam poetry is poetry read aloud in front of an audience either alone or in teams. According to poets.org, this kind of poetry is not meant to be read from a page, but it is meant to be spoken with enthusiasm and emotion, which is what the audience judges the teams on. Each member of the team is given three minutes and nine seconds to perform.
Many of the poets on the team started writing poetry when they were young. After seeing her first poetry slam performance during high school, Sason was convinced to make her own poetry slam club back in her own school. “If you know that you are a slam poet, you know the first time you hear it,” she said. Hardware had also attended competitions in high school but was impressed by fellow team member Ketant’s performance one day at RIT, which had a hand in his decision to go further with slam poetry.
Though the Institute has held many events and performances, RIT has not had an official poetry slam team until last year. The formation of the team began after their coach, Lisa Barber, Assistant Director of Customer Relations for housing operations, had Mental Graffiti, a local poetry team, and many other poets perform at an event she had planned.
“Afterwards I started to talking some of the poets and telling I use to perform poetry as an undergrad…” said Barber. “And they were talking about the possibility of trying to compete in the College Unions Poetry Slam Invitational (CUPSI).” Barber said she was happy to guide them along the process as they pitched the idea to Campus Life to create an official team.
RIT’s process for team creation and development was slightly different to other colleges due to the quarter system when the team was created. Instead of small qualifying competitions that lead up to a “Grand Slam,” a single large competition is held where anyone can join and is considered. Team building and preparation is usually done in the fall with spring being time for serious training and practice. Under quarters, the team was created in the spring, leaving much less time for training which made things a bit difficult for their first year.
This year, the team was much more prepared, but with the event moved up to early March they were still under a time crunch. Even so, they won the regional tournament which allowed them to qualify for nationals.
The team hopes to create a bigger influence on RIT and become a long standing team compared to the teams they face. Being one of the most “intellectually accessible art forms,” Sason encouraged anyone to get involved, including deaf and hard of hearing students.
The national tournament will be held March 12 through March 14. The team has mixed feelings of nostalgia from members of last year’s team and excitement for those who have never went. They explained that the aim of this competition is not always to win but to have a good time. Three minutes and nine seconds is all the time a slam poet has to grab your attention and release their feelings onto the crowd. The team is hoping to grab the campus’s attention for years to come.a