Oakland University students and faculty alike are celebrating poetry across campus this month.
OU’s Kresge Library hosted its fifth poetry slam last Thursday where cash prizes were awarded to the top two finalists.
Rain drizzled down the window across the room, on what was a cool and windy Thursday so one might say that it was the perfect setting for a melodramatic evening. But inside, on the fourth floor of OU’s brightly lit Kresge Library, it was anything but gloomy.
Chocolate chip cookies and Chex mix sat as centerpieces on grouped, library tables where students, guests and faculty sat, entangled in conversation, waiting for the poetry slam to begin.
Flipping a piece of torn out notebook paper on its back, one student reads and recites the lines of his two poems. D.J. Finwall is an OU freshman and this is his first poetry slam.
“It’s a poetry reading boxing match, competition,” Karrie Waarala, the library director of the Auburn Hills Public Library, also a slam poet, said, as the host of last week’s poetry slam.
“This is not your grandma’s poetry reading; don’t be quiet,” Waarala said, to set the tone for what some might say was a lively and expressive evening.
Beginning in 1996, National Poetry Month is celebrated in both the U.S and Canada throughout the month of April, according to the Academy of American Poets at Poets.org to show appreciation to poetry and its role in American culture.
In lieu of National Poetry Month, Kresge Library has hosted one to two slam poetry competitions annually over the last few years.
The 17 competing writers read and performed original works of poetry surrounding topics of love, marriage, life – in the broadest of terms, to the struggle and emotion stemming from experiences in poverty, opinions of the government as well as others.
“To throw something out there that no one has ever read and no one ever knows, is strange but it’s cool, it’s a different feeling,” Finwall said.
Within the mix of students, faculty and nearby residents, as young as a sixth-grade student, partook in the poetry slam.
“He’s doing things that we’re doing in my MFA [Master of Fine Arts] program,” Waarala said about the sixth-grade competitor.
“There’s a uniformity to a slam, a certain way they work,” said Ann Switzer, Assistant Professor and Kresge Library Information Services & Outreach Librarian.
Switzer, in charge of the poetry slam, explained how the five judges were chosen at random and had an average of 30 seconds to toss up their scorecards as to keep the poetry slam moving in a swift manor.
Each competing writer was required to remain within the three-minute reading time constraint or a deduction of overall scoring would be applied. All writers were required to have two pieces of poetry on hand in preparation for both rounds.
All 17 writers competed in round one, where the five judges could score the performance from zero as the lowest, to 10 being the highest.
“It’s like the Olympics,” Waarala said while introducing the judges at the poetry slam.
Once the writer has performed and the judges have chosen their scorecards, the highest and lowest of those scorecards are discarded, leaving the three remaining scores to be added together.
With the summation of the three scores configured after every performance, round one was completed. Final scores ranged from 21.1 to 28.7, of the total possible 30 points.
“I didn’t get into the next round but I can see why, the poets here were absolutely amazing,” Finwall said.
Round one, following national slam rules, was a disqualifying round that advanced the top four scoring writers to the second and final poetry slam round.
In the final round, the top two scores, Michael Williams, received first place and a prize of $100, and Joshua McIntyre-Taylor received second place with a prize of $50.
“The whole thing was great,” Finwall said.
With a room full of different writing styles and performances, some said the night was inspiring as each writer expressed his or her appreciation of poetry in a different way.
“Even if you’re not going to compete, there’s an excitement to it,” Switzer said.
Thursday’s poetry slam was the first event that Switzer and other members enforced the set of national slam rules to follow, such as the disqualifying round as well as the three-minute time limit to prepare writers for a possible slam team next year.
OU has yet to have a slam poetry team, but there will be a workshop held in the upcoming fall semester to prepare those interested in being a part of a university slam team, according to Switzer.
Writers on the future slam team will be required to memorize their pieces of poetry and will be competing with universities and colleges such as Michigan State University and Oakland Community College, who currently have slam poetry teams.
“It’s not far off from what people are already doing,” Switzer said, commenting that the latest poetry slam winner is comparable to the current collegiate competition.
Also, for students interested in seeing what slam poetry is all about, Switzer recommends attending the poetry readings held on the first Thursday of every month at noon in the library.
“Poetry readings are another way for people to get comfortable,” Switzer said, it is a great place to start, she said.
National Poetry Month is also being celebrated at the 12th Annual Poetry Bash taking place this Thursday, April 15 from 5:30-7 p.m. in the Lake Michigan rooms of the Oakland Center.