As the Emerson Poetry Project’s (EPP) event emcee — dubbed the Slammaster— badgered the small crowd for more “slammers,” members of the audience looked up. They looked down. They looked to the person sitting next to them, at their shoes, to the wall—anywhere but the stage. Apparently the assemblage was suddenly shy at the thought of getting up and performing their poetry.
Eventually, with much coaxing, three slammers — junior Zach Connolly, freshman Allison Trujillo, and junior Phoenix Bunke — volunteered to perform their original poems. The Slam would now commence.
On Monday night in room 210 of the Walker Building, the EPP held its penultimate qualifier to go to the College Unions Poetry Slam Invitational (CUPSI). The event also boasted a performance from “featured slammer” Casey Rocheteau, a four-time published author who competed in CUPSI during her years at Hampshire College and has roots in the Boston do-it-yourself art scene.
With a solid performance at Monday’s event, contestants would be in prime position for the tonight’s final qualifying event.
The night’s slam saw the performers recite three poems under three minutes over three rounds to gain points that accumulate to form their overall score.
“The performers had been competing all semester in order to gain points to make it on the team,” said Emily Carroll, EPP’s co-curator.
Senior Maya Phillips, a writing, literature, and publishing major and event Slammaster, describes the point system as “going from 0.0,” the worst, she said, “up to 10.0, which is orgasm.”
Three judges were randomly picked from the audience. Phillips, with her crass charm, then verified that the judges had never engaged in coital interactions with the performers, ensuring a “fair” grading system.
The spirit of camaraderie and jokes stretched on throughout the night. The aggression that often accompanies competition was non-existent in the small group.
None of the performers appeared particularly preoccupied with the point system. Instead, they reveled in hearing other poets perform their work and gave snaps of approval and murmurs of appreciation as each performer went up.
As the group paused after the second round, Rocheteau, the star of the evening, went up to perform.
She began with the poetry she wrote while leading the Hampshire Slam Collective from 2004-2007, reading excerpts from three of her books to the intimate group. Her husky voice added to the emotion already prevalent in the poems that discussed histories of racial tension, disgust at American capitalism, and tales of thwarted love.
In “Needham to Newton” the passion burst through in Rocheteau’s voice as she pleaded to the crowd with the lines, “Why won’t you kiss me longer/You stopped loving me/Before I could say it back.”
After Rocheteau’s poignant performance, the trio of slammers took the floor again. Connolly’s and Trujillo’s odes to Boston and stickers, respectively, garnered the most points, with Bunke’s final poem landing her with the lowest score.
The differing subject matter within the poetry allowed for performances that were never dull and always passionate. The Last Qualifying Slam is tonight at 8 p.m. in room 210 of the Walker Building.
Diaz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.