Creating Community Through Poetry at the Annual “Poetry Slam” by CommWorks

Students came together under a bright blue sky to share poetry on Shadow Lawn during the Global Understanding Convention. On Wednesday, April 10, CommWorks hosted a “Poetry Slam” to encourage dialogue about global issues. About 30 people came out to support the event that covered topics from a broken heart to race and gender. Both original and published works were read.

Katie Meyer, senior and vice president of CommWorks, said, “It’s about building community.” Those who attended had the opportunity to listen to one another and understand issues regarding a variety of topics. The attraction of the “Poetry Slam” is that people can write about something emotional or controversial and say it is “just a poem.” Meyer added, “We are just trying to bring people together.”

Meyer wrote the poem “Glass Girls” after viewing a video highlighting issues women have in our society and the idea of the “glass ceiling.” Her poem talked about unequal pay between men and women and how the government is making decisions about women’s bodies regarding birth control and abortion.

“I am really interested in what it means to be a woman and a girl in this society,” Meyer said. She explained that people often say that things are better now and that women are equal. “It may seem like that, but it’s really not,” she added.

One of the “Poetry Slam” winners, Nick Sommons, read a poem written by an African-American woman. Sommons recited “I’m a Hip-Hop Cheerleader” by Jessica Care Moore to gain a deeper understanding of others and their viewpoint and feel compassion for their expressed ideas.

“Instead of raps about freedom, artists rap about material things and, more importantly, rap has materialized women which is what the author of this poem wants to change,” Sommons said. “The message was a wake-up and from this, we realize that hip-hop has changed.”

Although there were laughs throughout the reading, the poem written by Moore communicated a deeper meaning. The irony of the race and gender difference between Moore and Sommons was not lost on the crowd, but added a unique element of humor and contradiction. “Who better than to bring this issue to light than a man, who rejects this idea of materializing women and says, ‘That’s not okay by any means,’” Sommons said.

The event also brought out first-time poet Caroline Anzarouth who read an original poem titled “Make Them Stop.” She shared how the experience was “illuminating” and allowed her to justify and vocalize her feelings.

“When we write poetry, we gain the confidence to really grasp those feelings and acknowledge that they are ours,” Anzarouth said. “The ‘Poetry Slam’ involved no harsh judgment, critique, or embarrassment of any sort; it was just a group of people supporting each other’s thoughts and feelings, and I think that’s pretty cool.”

Of the 18 participants who read poetry, Anzarouth’s mother, Jacqueline Anzarouth, also came to the event and read her own original poem, “Words.” Jacqueline wrote several poems and eventually shared some of them with her daughters. “When I told my mom about CommWorks’ ‘Poetry Slam’ I saw her eyes light up,” Caroline Anzarouth explained. “My mom is always supporting me and cheering me on so I wanted the chance to do the same for her. It was a special experience for us to share together.”

The idea behind the “Poetry Slam” in general is to share poetry with everyone. It does not take an English degree or special education to write, read or relate to poetry. It is something for everyone, no matter what his or her background, race, or gender, and one does not need a trained ear to appreciate the spoken word.

The “Poetry Slam” is held annually but this is the first time it was connected with the Global Understanding Convention. “I think it really worked out for us in our favor,” Meyer said, speaking on behalf of CommWorks. “I thought we had a great turnout.”

“Different types of people-including students, professors, and family members-had the chance to get up on stage and recite poetry on any topic that was meaningful to them,” Anzarouth said. “Some of them explicitly related to issues of history and culture while others did so more indirectly. Either way, it didn’t matter. All that mattered was that we not only listened to, but really heard each other.”

PHOTO COURTESY of Michelle Callas