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The Mind Behind the Mic, Meet Daniel Weingarten

By Mishi Bhushan and Arianna Skibell Posted: 01/24/2011
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Some students doodle in the margins of their notebooks. Other students inconspicuously check texts. Sophomore Daniel Weingarten writes, jotting down ideas or jokes that he turns into performance. These performances take place alongside a slew of students who perform their own slam poetry under the umbrella of Minds on Mics, an organization Weingarten created.

Marc Smith, the creator of slam poetry competition, aspired to make poetry a more accessible art form. By adding a competitive spin, Smith felt he could appeal to a wider and more diverse audience. Inspired by Smith’s notion of accessibility, Weingarten, as a freshman in the college, created Minds on Mic, the only open mic event on campus.

“I wanted to give people a space where they [felt] comfortable sharing their story,” said Weingarten.

To get the ball rolling, Weingarten sought out other interested students to help him promote his first open mic event.

“The biggest challenge was finding people to help the idea evolve. People want to be part of the greatness, but don’t want to be part of the work required for it to evolve,” said Weingarten.

As the trend of performance poetry begins to sweep the nation’s college scene, Weingarten plans to expand Minds on Mic, making it a larger part of Emory’s community. What began as a safe space for students to share their poems has now expanded to incorporate competition as well as philanthropy. Members of Minds on Mic plan to work with at risk youth, introducing them to performance poetry.

“We’re going to go in and have workshops to get kids excited about poetry. We want to show them that there’s more than just the academic poetry they learn in school,” said Weingarten.

As a growing organization, Minds has already begun to make its mark on campus. Last semester, Minds on Mic brought Gypsee Yo to campus to perform her slam poetry alongside Emory students and conduct a workshop.

Not only is Gypsee Yo the second place winner of the Women of the World poetry slam, but she also used to work as a costume designer in Emory’s theater program. Over 100 people came to Harland Cinema to see Gypsee Yo perform.

On Feb. 4 at 7:30 p.m. in Harland Cinema, Minds on Mic will hold a preliminary slam competition. The top five placing poets qualify to compete in the College Union Poetry Slam Invitational (CUPSI), which will take place at the University of Michigan Ann Arbor in April.

“To perform in front of people encouraging you and shouting stuff at you is ineffable and the whole process and performance is a euphoric experience,” said Weingarten. “Slam is a microcosm of what poetry is: grit, energy, competitiveness. A combination of what human nature has to offer. The point isn’t the point; the point is the poetry.”

Weingarten’s interest in writing and performing slam poetry started his senior year of high school, when a friend suggested he attend the weekly slams at Da Poetry Lounge in Los Angeles, Weingarten’s home town.

Unbeknownst to Weingarten, Da Poetry Lounge houses the largest weekly open mic event in the country. “I thought it was just a little coffee shop,” said Weingarten.

Weingarten recalls the experience as life changing and returned every week to the lounge. “I never saw myself as an artist before, but writing was the first art I fell into, where I felt like I had a place, where I found myself as an artist,” said Weingarten.

As he began building relationships and forming connections with fellow poets in Los Angeles, Weingarten learned that slam poetry could be competitive. With a background in competitive tennis, Weingarten longed to know more about these slam teams. After attending a slam competition, 17 year-old Weingarten promised himself that by 18 he would join a slam team and go with them to Nationals.

Last May, Weingarten returned to Los Angeles in time for the qualifying slams and made it onto two teams, Brave New Voices at the youth level and the National Poetry Slam for adults, thus realizing his dream.

“A lot of people participate in slam to achieve success and make money. At first, I was worried about the points and winning, but now I’m more focused on which poem to perform that best reflects my story,” said Weingarten. “While my goal is to have a full auditorium, my main priority is to create an atmosphere where people are comfortable sharing their stories. I believe poetry, like any form of art, is inherently limitless.”

— Contact Mishi Bhushan or
Arianna Skibell.


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