When College junior Nabila Lovelace first saw a poetry slam for the first time, she knew she wanted to be a part of something like it. On a recent Saturday, after years of honing her art, she got her biggest chance yet.
Over the weekend of April 18-21, the Emory Poetry Slam Team competed in the College Unions Poetry Slam Invitational (CUPSI), held at the University of La Verne (Calif.) just outside of Los Angeles, taking a respectable fifth place in a field that contained almost 50 competitors.
The performance poetry community awarded the Emory team the title “Pushing the Art Forward,” in honor of, “staying true to themselves while pushing the boundaries of the art form,” according to the team’s press release.
“We had a mentality of ‘we are going to go, and we want to win,’” College junior and the team’s charismatic founder and leader Daniel Weingarten said. “But our priority was making sure, no matter what, that the Emory poets put up good work and told fantastic stories.”
Since its founding in 2009, the Emory Poetry Slam Team has gradually increased their presence on and off campus through events such as Minds on Mic, an open mic held several times each semester, and intercollegiate competitions such as Brave New Voices and CUPSI.
Their efforts have paid off; the team’s fifth place finish marked a significant improvement over last year’s result, when they took 21st place at CUPSI.
Weingarten stressed their internal efforts at improving the quality of the team, noting that they have increased their organization and built a team mentality in the semesters since the group’s inception. In addition, the team recruited a faculty coach, Karen Garrabrant, Senior Assistant Librarian at the Woodruff Library.
“I had a grand idea of associating Emory with performance poetry,” Weingarten said. “CUPSI is the way to do it.”
In an interview with the Wheel
, Weingarten and Lovelace discussed several of the poems they performed at CUPSI. A common theme throughout the works from the Emory poets was identity and how it both shapes and distorts one’s worldview.
In one piece, Lovelace, who is black, and Weingarten, who is white, played a married couple with a six-year-old.
During the performance, they entered into a Platonic debate over issues regarding race and identity. Like many of their works, the poem’s purpose was to show that it is impossible to write someone else’s story because the poet can only truthfully speak to their own identity.
Lovelace first became interested in performance poetry when she saw a friend compete at a poetry slam in New York during high school. She immediately began writing.
Upon her arrival at Emory, she sought out a venue for performance poetry. Later in fall semester, she performed at Minds on Mic for the first time.
“Performing in front of an audience for the first time gave me a lot confidence,” Lovelace said.
When asked what kind of poet she considered herself to be, Lovelace answered that “if you preoccupy yourself with the slam, that is all you will write for. You should write for a story, because there is something that has driven you to write this.”
But despite their poems’ challenging subject matters, both Weingarten and Lovelace expressed the importance of balancing artistry with performance.
“The best performance poets are incredible writers, who can produce incredible page work,” Weingarten said. “But they are also conscious that the poem will only be performed once, so you only get once chance to convey your message.”
Lovelace agreed, noting that for every poem, “there is a stage version, and then there’s a page
Most importantly, both teammates agreed that the greatest performance poems are written on subjects the author is passionate about.
“If you care about the message, you are going to do it well,” Lovelace said.
For Emory’s performance poets, then, receiving an award for remaining honest with themselves and their art may have been an even greater honor than the fifth place finish.
“Tell the stories that are true to you,” Weingarten said, “Don’t sacrifice your art for the sake of anything.”
— Contact William Partin III.