The Oberlin Review
<< Front page Arts December 15, 2006

Poets Display Talent
Poetry Slam Proves to be Thought-Provoking

There was thrum and polyrhythm in that crowded room, teeming with written valuables; mumbling, barely audible, the poets stalked in circles with their notebook squiggles. It was a fundraiser, filled with students, razor-tongued, whipping words to an audience that girded the spotlight and the microphone. If you stayed home, you missed a show that ran the gamut from veteran slammers to first-timers, those averse to verse to skilled rhymers. Like most slams, there was no dearth of love and politics as topics, but poets pleased the crowd with their verbal tricks and antics.

The event was presented by Hip Hop 101, held in the basement of Fairchild on Dec. 7 at 9 p.m. The three emcees took stock of the crowd and made sure their applause was properly loud. They also spread the word about the Hip Hop Conference, conscious that the first weekend in March is not too far away.

Suffice it to say, that biennial event is sure to be well-attended. The theme, incidentally, is slated to be Hurricane Katrina and the hip hop community’s reaction. This reaction was shown in senior Claire Miller’s poem when she put forth a metaphor of the fist as a heart, and said New Orleans, no matter how you pronounce it,  was “still loved, still fought for.”

Five judges were selected and the guidelines all presented. Then, the judges were informed of what was to be the norm: Rank the poet half on content and half on performance. Each judge would rank out of ten after the audience had listened for no more than three minutes. You could call it a quickie, hit the mic then quit it. 

Round One was intense, with a whole lot of tens. The judges were well-disposed to personal sufferings exposed. Said one judge, first-year Alex Otte, “The audience was so enthusiastic. They probably would have been happy if I had given everyone a nine or a ten!” Now and again, this wasn’t the case, and the emcees offered a security escort out of the place.

Senior Anwar Uddin was one of the first high scorers, weaving words and speaking surely so that the audience couldn’t ignore his point. He also anointed the crowd with responsibility: “The reason we’re gathered here this evening is to challenge the meaning of reality.” He related personal troubles while admitting, “I just can’t understand the never-ending number of struggles.”

And it seemed as though some fellow slammers couldn’t either. They were just so eager to bash consumer culture, advocate clean air and water and decry a war, that they almost created the art of the non sequitur. But others, despite being discursive, seemed none the worse for it, like first-year Genevieve Apfel who touched, in a few lines, on the environment, abortion, bong hits and masturbation.

Another crowd pleaser was Baraka Noel, OC ’06, one of the event’s organizers. His words perched like birds on the topics he chose, talons clinging to outlast the updraft from his flow. He laid low all whom he lampooned, talkin’ ‘bout how he took shrooms, disowned the child of Mary’s womb.

There were also many love poems, slammed anthems to past pathos and unmasked emotions. First-year Connor Goldsmith discussed the lasting effects of a bitter ex and “[his] glowing corona of angelic whoredom.” Senior Sam George showed his adoration by adorning the object of his ardor with sports metaphors while mourning the popular conception of beauty splashed on magazines in grocery stores. Sophomore Micky Steiner, while sophomore Sam Sax laid a beat down, spoke of “a love that liked to swallow with a trigger in its mouth.”

Some performances were harder to categorize, such as sophomore Katherine Dohan’s. She played a song on the guitar about a town of people who couldn’t get far because none of them had feet. David Brown turned preconceived notions upside down starting out with what amounted to a hippie Hallmark card, in toddler’s verse, preaching peace and love, of course.

He then burst into a liberating beat tirade: “All the greatest ideas have been said  now you’re free to slipidy lick them with silver, dress em up in hot pink wigs and platforms to match to match to match their meaning.” Junior Sean Mair’s “Ras Solo” was another standout: part sermon, part seizure, all vocal might.

He made it to the second round with Sam Sax and Baraka Noel. Also, first-year Margie Chardiet tagged in for Anwar. We were left with two, when the dust settled, and they were Baraka and Ras. They faced off and the whole thing was decided by the decibels or pulse of the crowd. They both performed with intensity but had distinctly different styles, so despite their vebal guile it all ended in a tie.

In the end the event was an expressive free-for-all with snap-alongs, call and response, some break-dancing, smooth singing, sick jamming, DJ-ing, manic monologues, prose poems, freestyling and fabricated words. In fact, this all was so absurdly engaging that the crowd ended up staying for a total two and two-thirds hours.


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