Eugene F. Merkert Chemistry Center is perhaps the most unlikely place on campus to find anything resembling culture. Typically the building where the dreams of frazzled potential premeds like myself go to die, the building rarely hosts anything uplifting, unless of course, collecting the perfect percent yield of a recrystallized compound is the highlight of your existence. But for the rest of us, it’s hard to find something to fill your soul in the sterile, functional science building.
It was different, however, this past Wednesday when Merkert 127 was transformed into something entirely other. With the addition of string lights and soft hip-hop, the mood of the lecture hall adjusted for the first poetry slam of the year. Organized by Boston College Slam! (Soul, Love, and Meaning), the only spoken-word poetry group on campus, the slam included the performances of members of Slam!, alumni, and anyone who was inspired to share their own work.
The inclusivity of the event was paramount. The members of the E-board outlined how BC Slam! is dedicated to its mission of creating an open and loving environment where ideas and emotions are expressed freely and without judgement. It is designed to be a safe space for healing, or a “Slam-ily”, where one can be the most honest and true version of oneself without fear. The discussion of sensitive topics is not only allowed, but welcomed, as it is intended to serve as a forum for expression to encourage change. Discrimination, rape, identity, mental health, privilege, and gender were among the many brought up. As strangers shared raw, beautiful, and meaningful things with the crowd, the importance of such an environment was evident as the crowd expressed its empathy, sympathy, and all around support for the art that was being voiced.
With slam poetry, the audience and the writer truly have a symbiotic relationship. They are intertwined and interdependent. The strength of the poetry ignites the response of the audience, which in turn fuels the confidence and willingness of the writer to give himself to the crowd. The experience of poetry, connecting and responding to the work, elevates the written word from the level of confession to an open dialogue. For every speaker, whether a new inductee to the Slam! culture, or a seasoned poet and member of Slam! since its origins, the crowd universally responded to the reader with some show of encouragement. Especially when the poets were new or uncomfortable with sharing their work, the audience approval physically bolstered and uplifted the writers. The resounding snaps and “sex moans” collectively boosted the poet’s ability to convey his or her personal voice. The encouragement allowed the writers to confidently deliver their art to a crowd of relative strangers. It gave the writers an opportunity to give the words penned on paper a tangible life.
It was truly unlike anything one would expect of a stereotypical poetry reading. Although the language was creative and artful as in most poems, with unique imagery to convey impressions, the power of the pieces flowed from their delivery. The beauty of spoken word in comparison to written poetry is that meticulously chosen words that attempt to create an intended mood can be enhanced further with the inflection of the writer as it is voiced to the crowd. The different methods of dictation did special things for the pieces. For one poem read by a new member of Slam!, the soft, confessional, almost pleading method of speaking made the piece intimate and human. This mirrored the simple, yet eloquent exploration of the nature of the individual in the context of a relationship. Conversely, with the poem by a Slam! alum regarding his identity as a Latino man, the frequent pauses and strong emphasis on certain words gave a more pointed and accusatory tone that translated to an active call for the injustice of current race relations in this country. Both methods affected the audience in drastically dissimilar ways, yet both were effective. Both readers clearly influenced the listeners, opening the minds in the audience to the contemplation of their topics with the strength of their voice.
The strength of voice was used in some cases to read the work of other poets. For example, the animated and active delivery of the poem “Stop pretending it’s boring to be alive”, by Steve Roggenbuck, by the co-president of BC Slam! captivated the audience with the way she expressed the snarky and enlightening words about appreciating the mundane. Her enthusiasm while shouting “water is FALLING from the SKY” was completely, yet necessarily, absurd, opening the audience’s eyes to how sheerly absurd living really is. Several others also shared works of other poets that influenced them.
The defining characteristic of BC Slam!’s brand of poetry is that it demands to be spoken out loud and receive this sort of welcome. On a campus where open dialogue is not commonly accepted by the general population, sharing one’s personal reflections could be received incorrectly. It could risk the chance of being passive. But the words of the writers who shared their impressions are not passive in any sense. Slam poetry is pure fire. It filled the room with the energy of watching your favorite team win a championship while maintaining an air of reverence and respect that one usually reserves for places of worship. The result of this mix was two hours of performance poetry that left you wishing for more.
Featured Image by Julia Hopkins / Heights Editor