Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Vol. CLIV, Issue 3
Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Slam poets ‘bring back the beat’

20091005-01-slampoetry-webWhile students may perceive Whitman as an artsy institution rife with a cappella groups and literary magazines, slam poetry is not, perhaps, among the most prominent of the arts on campus. This week, The Pioneer sat down with some of campus’ top slam poets, Eli Singer, Dujie Tahat and Dorian Zimmerman. These sophomores strive, with rhythm and enthusiasm, to “bring back the beat.”

Pio: How did you guys get started on slam poetry?

Zimmerman: Well, the first time I was introduced to it was at an open mic back home in California, and I had crafted a poem that I kind of thought sounded like a slam poem. I didn’t really know much about it but I went to this event and decided to try it out. I was just really amazed by it because it was a totally different art form.

Pio: So how did you all bring this back to Whitman and decide to form your club?

Singer: Well, it’s not a club per se, but we were thinking about making it a club. But I mean, last year when we started getting together and meeting to talk about our poetry, only a few other people came to these meetings and most of the time it was just me, Dorian and Dujie at the center of it. It’s really more of a slam poetry team rather than a club, I’d say.

Pio: So are you trying to share this with others? Do you want to teach this art form to other people?

Zimmerman: Well, I think we’d disagree with the idea that slam poetry is something that’s taught. I guess that sounds kind of snobby, but it’s really not. When we get together with our group, it’s kind of like we’re all teaching each other: we go around and read our stuff and critique it and give comments to each other. It’s like an open forum. I might say, like, it’s really cool when Dujie does this or that, like, he’s got some rhymes, one after another, or maybe I like the way that he emphasizes something and maybe that will even influence my own voice. A lot of times it allows you to explore kind of new and different rhythms.

Singer: Dorian’s right. It was really interesting when we wrote a group slam together for the last open mic called “Bring Back the Beat.” It was funny because we all write really differently, and you could see how our different styles played off of each other there. We also experienced performing something that we didn’t write, because we all wrote it, and the way we set it up, we weren’t necessarily performing the same lines we’d written.

Zimmerman: And another thing the group setting’s really good for [is] digging into the finer details of a poem. For example, a lot of it is really fine-tuned rhythm and word play. There’s a huge amount of thought that goes into the order of adjectives, how the syllables and sounds work and how the rhymes come into play. So having this forum is really nice: you can get answers to your questions, especially when you’re really just torn over an issue in one of your poems. It’s nice having that critical ear, which a lot of the time is more critical than what you might get at an open mic or at a performance.

Pio: What kind of events have you participated or put on?

Singer: Well, we’ve just been doing open mics so far. I mean, we’ve got a bunch of ideas that we’ve come up with. I know, for example, that Merchant’s used to do an open mic, but whoever was running it doesn’t do it any more. We’ve also mentioned bringing this really awesome slam poet, Shihan, to campus.

Tahat: I’ve been talking with Steven Stradley, the WEB chair, about this. Shihan Van Clief is this L.A.-based poet and artist; he’s kind of like the West Coast representative for all things slam poetry-related.

Singer: This is something that I had been meaning to mention to you guys; I’ll just say it now: so I had this idea. Like, you know how T-Sports does 24 hours of improv? I think we should just do 24 hours of poetry sometime.

Zimmerman: Twenty-four-hour slam?! [He laughs.]

Tahat: I think also, ideally, that if we can get enough force behind it, it would be awesome to just put on a slam show, where it’s just slam poetry. Because, I mean, open mics are fun, and it’s definitely entertaining and fun to do, but sometime we’d like to have a forum just for slam poetry.

Zimmerman: I think we’re definitely going to do that, especially since we’ve been getting a lot of new interest. It’s just a matter of organizing it, and time: it’s all determined by our motivation.

Pio: What’s the situation on trying to get more people interested and involved? Is that even a main concern for you guys?

Singer: Well, I mean, we’re not exactly running out with pamphlets.

Zimmerman: We’re going to let them come to us . . . through performing, mostly. Elena [Gustafson], our newest member, ended up joining us this way.

Singer: Basically how Elena got involved was she just saw us perform at open mic and she e-mailed me saying, “Hey, I’m interested. Do you guys have meetings or something?” Hopefully, other people will do this, too.

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