Jackie Wolozin (Co-President): fourth-year, technical theatre major
In her tenure on the New Paltz Slam Team, co-president Jackie Wolozin’s goals have shifted. Though she first joined with the ambitious intentions of becoming a great poet and she acknowledges her own improvement, her focus is on her teammates.
“While good writing is very important to me, fostering the community and being an effective leader is just as important,” said Wolozin.“I feel that what I have to offer the team is administrative as well as poetic.”
Her growth as a poet, despite no formal study of the craft, began with her own try-out as a first-year student. She said she considered that year to be a bit of a lucky break, considering the incredibly fierce competition brought on in the following years. She was given the opportunity to learn, grow and truly prepare for the next round of try-outs.
Though it serves as a strong motivator, competition isn’t everything to the veteran slammer.
“Competition is just a mechanism to force poets to grow and evolve as authors,” said Wolozin. “It makes things difficult because if there is too much competition, it becomes about winning and not the poetry, but because you are competing, everyone is working to be the best they can be.”
In her own poetry, Wolozin said she strives for a more reactionary style, as she finds those pieces carry stronger emotional connections.
“My goals this year in slam are to write some poems that really say something significant, or express my feelings effectively, but also to be organized and effective in the administration of the team,” she said.
Ben Golden took a year off from competitive slam poetry after spending his first year at college on the New Paltz Slam Team. He said he didn’t know if he would return to the team until the end of his second year.
During his time away, Golden worked on his craft. He made a name for himself in the Albany poetry community as the only recurring poet under 30, performing at local shows and finding his bearings as a seasoned performer. Though he said his confidence grew, he still worried about his eventual return to the New Paltz scene.
“All of this led up to me being a complete nervous wreck at the first preliminary slam, but placing third overall, nonetheless,” Golden said.
As his earliest poems were written as fleshed-out jokes, Golden likes to keep humor present in his work. He said his favorite piece is “Persuasive Essay,” a poem he wrote for a Black Erotic-themed slam in Albany, because it’s rife with the sort of raunchy and in-your-face punch lines he likes to deliver as he discusses his infatuation with a former summer school professor.
“I want to have a staple of memorable funny pieces like ‘Persuasive Essay’ and be able to write some serious poetry with some real weight to it,” Golden said. “Not pandering ‘Please, feel bad for me’ poetry, but something authoritatively serious.”
When the final five poets vying for spots on the New Paltz Slam Team were announced, they huddled together and were told that by the end of the year they would be a family. Slam team newcomer Julianna Zuckerman is looking forward to this promised camaraderie.
“I hope we will be a group that helps and supports each other,” Zuckerman said.
Zuckerman fostered this environment even before she was named a member of the team. When faced with pre-slam nerves, Zuckerman began looking to Sabrina Adikes, a fellow team member, and the slam team’s coach, Kate Brady, for advice on her poetry and the best ways to revise.
As she is fairly new to slam poetry, in general, Zuckerman said she has made an effort to surround herself with the craft through constantly writing and her internship at Nuyorican Poet’s Café.
Though she said she doesn’t enjoy the competitive nature of slam, Zuckerman does hope to grow as a poet in the next year and conquer more difficult subject matter.
“It’s always been strange to me that people’s art is being judged because slam is pretty free form,” Zuckerman said. “But, I guess, if there’s going to be a team then there needs to be competition, unfortunately.”
For Christine Richin, writing and performing poetry is therapeutic. As she once considered herself to be shy and without a voice, she said releasing her most pent-up emotions and confronting her innermost demons has proved to be not only a cathartic, but an enlightening practice.
For the inexperienced poet who had only performed twice in front of a sizeable crowd, being named one of the top-scoring poets at the Grand Slam on Nov. 18 offers a host of opportunities.
“I found that [poetry] was my only way to really get a grip on things that I’ve kept bottled up for years,” Richin said. “This experience has made me grow to understand myself in such a way that no therapist ever could. It’s really something else.”
Richin said that she searches for the stories and memories that rouse the most pain or enlightenment to provide her with the powerful emotions she chooses to grapple with. It’s in the emotions, not just the words, that she tries to connect with her audience.
“It’s important as a poet to be able to expose yourself to your audience and even more importantly, yourself,“ Richin said. “You have to feel it for the audience to really get you.”
For returning member of the New Paltz Slam Team, Sabrina Adikes’ approach to poetry is relatively organic. Though she has been performing her poems since fall of 2009, she said she isn’t entirely sure if she approaches poetry at all.
“Inspiration can come from everything, which is a cliché mostly because it’s true,” Adikes said.
Her poems are often composed of these sporadic inspirations. She’ll jot down lines on the back of receipts or on the legal pad she keeps in her car for inspiration on-the-go and she’ll send herself e-mails and save memos and one-lined Word documents on her computer. She’s open to be inspired by whatever she encounters and the slam competitions themselves serve as a major inspiration.
“The competition for me is just a vessel for a huge bucket of amazing ideas and brilliant writing,” Adikes said. “The poems/poets are what matter, not the points.”
For Adikes, the chance to write and share a poem that touches her audience is a particularly rewarding experience. Her favorite poem to perform is called “Big,” and she said that it had made the largest impression, causing friends and strangers to tell her how they were moved by her words.
“It’s easy to feel like your voice and your experiences get lost in the soup when you’re performing with a bunch of poets,” Adikes said. “To make an impact is the best possible outcome, for me.”
Last fall, as part of an assignment requiring her to choose and attempt to change a negative habit by the end of the semester, Karly Fesolowich chose to conquer her quiet wall-flower tendencies by challenging herself to try out for the New Paltz Slam Team. This year, she reprises her role in the team’s lineup.
“The thing about slam is you can never expect what’s going to happen next,” Fesolowich said. “Last year, I had no idea I’d be gaining a family and that’s what happened.”
At last year’s Grand Slam, when she was left with no choice but to perform a “coming out” letter to her parents (with her mother in the audience), it was her teammates’ support that carried her through. To Fesolowich, the slam team is so much more than a vehicle for competition; forging deep connections between the poets, it’s the ultimate support system.
“If you think about it, it’s necessary, we don’t get up on stage to talk about puppies and kittens,” Fesolowich said. “It’s important to have that person waiting for you in the audience that you know would love you no matter what.”
With the new year of slam, Fesolowich said she expects new challenges, friends and stories. Most of all, she expects to be surprised.