Occidental’s Spoken Word Club Returns from Nationals

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Author: Sam Byrne

Four members of the Occidental Spoken Word Club traveled to the 2011 College Unions Poetry Slam Invitational (CUPSI), a nation-wide poetry competition, last Tuesday, April 8. The Occidental team was selected in February when 12 performers competed against each other in the Cooler, hoping to gain a spot in the national competition.

From the original 12 students, Sarah Winters (sophomore), Alex Stevens (senior), Maya Morales (first-year) and Conor Anderson (senior) were selected by an audience of 150 other students to represent the college.

CUPSI is hosted annually by the Association of College Unions International, offering students from all over the country a chance to represent their college’s poetry slam programs and to compete for top honors.

This year the event was held at the University of Michigan. The competition is an inclusive event that invites members of the public to watch the performances and even allows locals to share their original works during allotted “open mic” times.

There were also special guest performances by professional poets who worked with the students in between their poetry readings.

“CUPSI was a really magical experience. It’s just this amazing and warm community of young artists, who are really brilliant and dedicated and amazing at what they do,” Winters said.

The team watched and learned from its competition. There was also a social aspect to the competition. Students from all schools interacted and shared their experiences with one another, celebrating the art of poetry and literature.

Students from the college’s poetry slam team were critiqued by a panel of judges on a variety of different tasks. Their memorization and performance skills were put to the test as they participated in writing exercises, smaller competitions against other teams and freestyle activities.

Students were also expected to learn, memorize, recite and perform required poems that they had never rehearsed or likely seen before.

“It was really amazing to see poets creating and performing around the clock,” Winters said.

Winters also recognized that the effort comes with reward as she was given the opportunity to meet and interact with several talented writers.

“We met a huge number of writers and were inspired by so many of them,” Winters said. “Everyone was really, really passionate about the art — it didn’t stop at the competition.”

Following the smaller activities, students presented their own pieces in front of the other 37 teams, the main event of the competition.

On Sunday, April 10, the results were announced. The top four-scoring teams were Macalester, Washington University at St. Louis, New York University and the University of Minnesota Twin Cities. Occidental was not one of the top ten teams to advance to the semifinals, but Winters is still happy with the results.

“We scored well and are happy with the poems we performed as a first-time team to CUPSI,” Winters said.

“We like to think of the axiom, ‘Points are not the point, the point is poetry.’ No matter what, you’re up there doing what you love and what’s most important to you artistically and as a human. That’s what it’s really all about: freedom of expression, creative speech, diversity and having fun,” Founder of CUPSI Robb Thibaualt said to the Michigan Daily.

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