Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Vol. CLIV, Issue 8
Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Award-winning slam poet Alvin Lau, among others, to judge first-ever Whitman slam poetry competition

Junior Yvan Trinh, WEB’s cultural events director, distinctly remembers when WEB made the decision to bring slam poet Alvin Lau to Whitman.

“It actually all started at NACA,” Trinh said.   “All the [WEB] directors had to go to the National Association of Campus Activities, and that’s basically an event where all different types of entertainment can come and perform for us and we can see what we like. Alvin Lau just really stood out.”

Not only was Lau a solid entertainer, but his poetry featured a cultural emphasis that appealed to Trinh.

“He really showed his cultural diversity and uniqueness in his poetry and his performance,” Trinh said. “And since I knew that we had a pretty successful slam poet come a couple years ago: Oveous Maximus: I was like, ‘This will be a really great way for me to bring a different type of culture to Whitman.'”

Lau is the Chicago-based son of Chinese immigrants, and his work often addresses urban and minority culture.

“He really focuses on diversity,” said Trinh. “He talks a lot about hip hop too, and he has one famous thing that he always does called ‘For the Breakdancers,’ where he’s using his body, using hip hop breakdancing moves as a way to verbalize, which is really cool. He talks about lots of different things: he’s very diverse in his topics.”

On Feb. 26,  WEB and the Slam Poetry Club are co-hosting Whitman’s first ever slam poetry competition, featuring Alvin Lau.  Lau is an award-winning slam poet whose awards include two-time champion of “Louder than a Bomb,” the Chicago Youth Poetry Slam, two-time champion of “Brave New Voices,” the National Youth Poetry Slam, individual runner-up at the National Poetry Slam and a Pushcart Nomination. In 2006, he was named “Poet of Conscience” by Amnesty International. Lau has also been featured on National Public Radio and HBO’s Def Poetry Jam.

Sophomore Dujie Tahat, co-president of the Slam Poetry Club, is confident that Whitman students will benefit from Lau’s performance.

“They can definitely expect a good show,” Tahat said. “He’s one of the best spoken word artists in the country.”

Lau, in addition to performing during the competition, will also be serving as a guest judge. Trinh is especially excited about the opportunity for students to perform under such unique circumstances.

“It’ll just be a really cool combination of student and professional performances,” Trinh said. “I’m hoping to be able to utilize Whitman’s student talents as well as bring something new to the campus.”

Sophomore Eli Singer, also co-president of the Slam Poetry Club, agrees that Lau will certainly be something new.

“This is something they’re not going to see just being at Whitman,” said Singer.

What makes Lau stand out from other slam poets, according to Singer, are Lau’s edgy, aggressive style and the thought-provoking content of Lau’s poems. Singer recalls one poem, “What Tiger Said,” as particularly memorable.

“Tiger Woods has this one quote that said, ‘I’m glad that my family was rich when I was growing up because they stressed education and family,’ and so [Lau] did a response to the poem called ‘What Tiger Said’ . . . and how he basically said you have to be rich in order to have education mean something, and Alvin Lau was like, ‘No that’s a bunch of bullshit.'”

Singer was also impressed by the emotional potency of Lau’s poetry.

“He also has this poem called ‘Full Moon’ and it’s about his sister who’s a lesbian: that was really powerful,” he said.

Lau exemplifies what Singer views as a slam poet’s ability to use art to both engage and incite its audience in order to combat complacency.

“Most of these poems only last from two to five minutes: it’s usually only like three minutes, but in that span of the three minutes people will reevaluate their lives. Well, saying ‘reevaluate’ sounds really big, but if they’re actually listening they’ll rethink some of the things that they’re thinking about,” said Singer. “I’d be interested in talking to somebody who’s against homosexuality after they heard the poem ‘Full Moon.'”

Singer concluded with an exhortation to attendance.

“People should definitely come to this. This is our first slam competition ever at Whitman and we’re bringing a big-shot poet, too. It’s going to be pretty amazing: it’s going to be the experience of a lifetime, if I can go that far.”

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