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UO Poetry Grand Slam offers student poets a voice

UO Poetry Slam, a student organization dedicated to spoken word poetry, held its final poetry slam on Tuesday, Nov. 16 at Falling Sky Pizzeria & Public House. Named the UO Grand Slam, the event featured a variety of performances and readings from eight students at the University of Oregon.

The Grand Slam was one of several poetry slams that UO Poetry Slam holds throughout the year. Judged by five randomly selected audience members, the poets competed for a chance to represent the university at the 2017 College Unions Poetry Slam Invitational, an international competition sponsored by the Association of College Unions International and held at the University of Illinois — Chicago. UO Poetry Slam competed in 2015 and 2016, finishing 24 out of 76 groups last year.

Founded in 2014 by UO students Alex Dang and Hannah Golden, UO Poetry Slam seeks to offer spaces for young writers and poets on the UO campus. Dang, who works as a professional spoken word poet, described the organization as “a community of writers.” In an interview, he said he hopes to foster a sense of camaraderie among its members, especially after reports of hate crimes and confrontations have surfaced throughout the country.

“I think a lot of people are trying to look towards community at this point.” Having the ability to discuss issues, Dang said, is an important part of any safe space.

The poems covered a wide range of topics, including feminism, self-identity and race. Highlights included an open “letter” to Donald Trump from UO political science major Wendy Roman, which celebrated Roman’s Mexican heritage in the face of some of Trump’s controversial comments regarding Hispanic people.

In fact, President-Elect Donald Trump dominated much of the night’s poetry.

One poem from student Sarah Hovet addressed her frustration and anger at Trump’s obscenity-filled language toward women and the hope that she would live to see a woman elected president. Her poem received snaps, applause and yelps of approval from the audience.

Dang identified a correlation between poetry slams and the desire to openly speak one’s mind, but also reaffirmed the organization’s goal of maintaining an open environment.

“Every slam tries to respect everybody’s opinion,” Dang said. “But every slam also says, ‘Freedom of speech does not mean freedom of accountability.’”

Portland-based poet David ‘Doc’ Luben acted as guest MC, overseeing the judging and performing several poems of his own. Luben’s poems focused on loneliness, suicide and mental illness, subject matter intense enough that Luben himself warned of its emotional intensity.

“We’re all talking about some dangerous, intense stuff up here,” Luben said. “If you want to talk to someone about anything that might be troubling or difficult, please just ask them first.” Dang coupled Luben’s request with a shout of encouragement. “Don’t be nice, be necessary!”

By the end of the night, Dang, Roman, and fellow students Analee Knock and Daniel Smith were selected to compete at CUPSI in April, 2017. UO Poetry Slam will continue to hold slams throughout the year. Head to the group’s Facebook page to learn more.

Watch a performance of Alex Dang’s “The Miracle” here:


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Dana Alston

Dana Alston

Dana Alston is an Associate Arts & Culture Editor from San Jose, CA. He writes about film, music, and television. Paul Thomas Anderson is his one true god.

You can follow his meme-endorsed social media ramblings @AlstonDalston on Twitter or Letterboxd, or shoot him some eloquent hate mail at [email protected]