Poets Show It And They Know It

Photo by Maxwell Reide.
Photo by Maxwell Reide.
Photo by Maxwell Reide.

The fifth annual Wade-Lewis Poetry Slam Invitational was rife with rich, dramatic storytelling — a weekend that provided a glimpse into each slammer’s synaptic inner workings.

The slam, held Friday, Feb. 28 through Saturday, March 1 in Lecture Center 100, covered an impressive range of topics, from poems with overarching themes of religion, assault, abortion and discrimination intersected with others that addressed the Common App essay, a meaningful pair of sneakers and “manic pixie dream girls.”

Choosing standout poems is nearly impossible because each one seemed stronger than the last, though there was variation in the effortlessness of the pieces’ delivery. The poets’ weakest moments were the audience’s strongest — every time a slammer paused and stared out, grappling for the next line in their three-minute monologue, the crowd would snap their fingers with encouragement or yell out “you got this, poet!”

A particular performance that stood out was by Matt Coonar, a third-year English education major on SUNY Oneonta’s slam team, and the recipient of the “Best Pushing the Art Form” award.

Coonar delivered two of the most memorable poems with the most flawless performances of the entire weekend. His first poem focused on the issue of children being medicated for the over diagnosis of A.D.D. and A.D.H.D., and was full of comparisons of candy to pills, lines like “hocus pocus dosage” and “young minds subdued and zombies produced” resonating throughout the room.

SUNY Oneonta slammed down the house and won first place in the slam invitational with a diverse collection of heavy themes told through a personalized lens.

New Paltz’s own Urban Lyrics, who graced second place, emphasized equally sobering topics through a societal viewpoint. Pieces addressing racism and other injustices shined on Urban Lyrics’ team, with two of the biggest applauses of the competition finals going to second-year physics major Kelvin Then, who spit lines about gender inequality and racism, and another male slammer, fourth-year English major Josh Otero, who gave one of the most raucously funny and entertaining performances of the night, pulling the microphone off the stand and screaming “Baby, I like it raw.”

Fourth-year English major and President of the New Paltz Slam Team Christine Richin performed a poem that delved into the topic of a relationship turned abusive, but did so with a refreshing use of scrambled and disorganized sections of the “book” of the relationship’s story.

She would announce a page number and describe a memory, like how she and a lover used to “illicit the gag reflex in public,” before skipping one hundred pages to the relationship’s violent downfall. The beautiful piece was reminiscent of the structure of “500 Days of Summer,” a revitalized take on the frequently-tread-upon territory that is a relationship poem.

Wesleyan took third place while the New Paltz Slam Team was awarded fourth.

Teams that performed in the competition but didn’t place were from SUNY Geneseo, Yale, Brown and Dartmouth.

All participants and audience members cheered on fellow slammers who made it to the finals, underscoring the sense of community this sport both preserves and exists within.