Stadler Center's poetry slam will offer creative outlet for students

By Heather Hennigan and Michelle Reed

Contributing Writers

Thanks to the Stadler Center for Poetry and Jamaal May, the 2011-2012 Stadler Center Fellow and three-time Rustbelt Poetry Slam Champion, students have the opportunity to take part in an interactive and performative literary experience: slam poetry. With May leading the way, the Stadler Center has instituted Stadler Center Slams, the next of which occurs on Friday, Feb. 24 at Uptown and is open to all. Sign-ups begin at 6:30 p.m. and the slam begins at 7 p.m.

But what is slam, exactly?

“A slam competition involves poets who perform their work and are scored by members of an audience, with a winner being declared at the end,” Stadler Center director Shara McCallum said. “Our series features a [non-competitive] open mic to begin the evening, a featured poet reading his or her work and then a slam to conclude. We also serve free pizza to make the event more of a social gathering.”

McCallum and May began this series last fall upon May’s arrival at the University.

“With Jamaal’s background and experience on the slam circuit and his incredible presence–he is the phenomenal host of the series–I saw the perfect opportunity for us to get this series started,” McCallum said.

The Center’s two previous slams were extremely well-attended and well-received by University students, as well as those from Susquehanna University.

“What’s terrific about slams is that they involve audience participation and allow budding poets a chance to test out their work and hone their voices. The culture of slam is youth-driven and slam, a phenomenon that has shaped poetry over the past two decade, derives much of its energy from that fact,” McCallum said.

“I think poetry slam is something everyone should check out at some point, especially if they’ve never been able to get into poetry,” May said. “I had to be dragged to my first poetry slam because I had misconceptions about poetry based on limited experience with the art form and thought it wasn’t for me. Now that I travel the country, performing at various slam venues, I constantly hear people express the same sentiment I had at my first slam: ‘I didn’t know poetry could be like this. Where have I been?’”

While the lively, interactive environment is a big part of the appeal of poetry slams, May also emphasizes the unique way that slams bring people together.

“From my experience, poetry slams make for fertile soil when it comes to planting the seeds of community. Because anyone can show up and listen, be heard or volunteer to judge, slam has an implicit openness to the format,” May said.

To those writers who are hesitant to share their work on stage, May offers his advice.

“I always say being nervous means you care. I’m always nervous before sharing my poetry, but it can be helpful to shift your focus to the poem itself. Remind yourself why the poem is worth sharing. You have something to say that no one else can say quite the way you can. The rush you feel when you step off stage that first time will make all of the shaky nerves worth it,” May said.

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