Nowadays, conversations often do not contain more than simple, scattered text messages riddled with emojis. The interpersonal connections many take for granted have begun withering away rapidly.
Daniel DeLeon, A&S ’15, and Haley Kerr, A&S ’17, co-presidents of BC Slam!—Boston College’s student organization for the development and performance of spoken-word poetry—recognized this trend and decided to embark on a journey, along with the other initial members, to create a space dedicated to the expansion and proliferation of slam poetry.
The art of spoken-word poetry dates back several centuries, where the Greeks embedded it as an element in the ceremonies of the Olympic games.
Since those early performances, the art form underwent a meteoric rise to prominence beginning in the Harlem Renaissance. Langston Hughes, was one of its first major proponents, and the style was also explored by Martin Luther King Jr. in his “I Have a Dream” speech before reaching its contemporary form.
Spoken-word serves as a continuation of the rich tradition of literature, musical expression, and interaction of African American culture, with performances focusing on the aesthetics of word play and storytelling. Artists employ an arsenal of varying tone, changing facial expressions, gestures, rhyme, repetition, music, and improvisation, changing a poem from something that is simply read to a written work that must be experienced to be fully understood.
Those familiar with the genre agree that no one correct or acceptable style of performance prevails. Instead, individuality and innovation are encouraged. The infinite variations each performer can parlay into his or her rendition of their poems elevate the practice to a truly organic experience of pure emotion and sensory stimulation.
“It’s a profound medium of expression,” said Daniel Imahiyerobo, A&S ’15 and current member of BC Slam! “Life is happening. This art serves as a diary to me … I explore things I saw that did not seem right.”
The genuine expression of emotions and opinions through myriad styles and techniques characteristic of a slam poetry event shines a light on human vulnerability, creating an exciting and impactful atmosphere.
Many performers take the opportunity to share the struggles they encounter during their everyday lives and to express opinions and emotions that otherwise would be silenced, according to Imahiyerobo, who said he is simply hoping to impact the perceptions of those listening to his poetry.
“All the glitz and glamour the media portrays is not an accurate representation of society,” he said. “We attempt to show that which is swept under the rug.”
In this setting, a community grows based on empathy. By sharing deep personal struggles, often rooted in their psyche, the performers feel not only a state of catharsis in sharing their thoughs, but also a feeling of belonging to a group.
Berent Labrecque, member and A&S ’15, recounted a moment that he believes is indicative of the close-knit community found not only in the BC Slam! circle, but also in the entire spoken-word realm.
“One day a new member brought in a poem, she said, ‘I have something I can only share with you guys,’” Labrecque said. “As soon as she began speaking—performing—we all sensed the atmosphere in the room changing. She brought something very raw and real.
“When she finished, we all just sat there in awe. It was such a special moment and she received so much love andsupport. It was very emotional.”
The BC Slam! community also fosters the growing talents of its members, as both Labrecque and Imahiyerobo agree that other members inspire them to write better poems.
They pride themselves on peer support and on their goal of seeking social justice, in line with previous generations of slam poetry performers.
This semester marks the first for the organization. Previously, hip hop and slam poetry culture were not present on BC’s campus, according to Imahiyerobo.
“We saw the need for such a community,” he said. “Immediately, there was an excitement around campus.”
BC Slam! has already hosted two successful openmic nights this semester, where students were invited to share their original poetry with an audience outside of the club.
One such event was a fundraiser called Pancakes and Poetry. It was held in Fulton 511 in collaboration with the BC Baking Club and BC’s chapter of Wishmakers on Campus, which collected money for cancer research.
“It had a better showing than that for classes held in that room,” Imahiyerobo said.
Its second event, called “You Do You,” was hosted as a collaboration with The Gavel and Allies of Boston College during National Allies Week in October.
To go with this theme, students used their poetry to express their own perceptions of life and what they saw as their prospects for the future.
One poem, about a student who had spent time in India, told a story about poverty in the streets that focused on a child was who was teeming with joy simply because he had just found water to drink.
Labrecque described a great poem as one that “makes me feel something,” and Imahiyerobo said that the telling sign of a true artist is one who says something everyone already knows in a different way that touches them all over again.
While the slam poetry scene is only just beginning to grow at BC, club members are already looking to branch out.
The club’s leaders revel at the prospect of fulfilling their long-term vision: expanding beyond the friendly confines of Chestnut Hill.
They hope to create a network similar to that of the club sport teams on campus by assembling a team of their own that represents BC at different competitions in the Boston area.
For now, BC Slam!’s main goal is to foster creativity and organic expression on campus and possibly serving as a catalyst for many other creative processes.
Its mix of the written word and performance art, combined with its often social justice-focused agenda, makes BC Slam! a unique campus organization, and its members are poised to make themselves stand out both at the University and beyond it.
An earlier version of this article stated that “You Do You” was the theme of BC Slam!’s collaboration with Wishmakers and the BC Baking Club. The theme was that of a different collaboration.
Featured Image by Evan Forester / Flickr.com