The Occidental Lounge of the Student Center was transformed into a battleground for poetry as Brooklyn College invited two other New York based slam teams to compete for a spot at the College Unions Poetry Slam Invitational last Thursday. Brooklyn College emerged in third place with the women of BC slam team competing against New York University (NYU) who came in first place and Barnard/Columbia College who placed second. The BC slam team will go on to continue the tradition of representing the college on a national level next week in Texas.
Prior to the slam, five judges were randomly selected from the audience and given the task of scoring each poem on a scale from 0-10. Two sacrificial poets opened the show in order to warm up the judges and set the scale. Judges were chosen on the basis of being unfamiliar with all of the competing poets but were mostly reluctant to give lower scores.
“When the judges kept giving the 10, that was probably me,” said Serena Rockingster, a freshman student and one of the judges for the slam. Rockingster admitted that she is not a poet but “loved seeing it in action.”
Communications major, Raven Lemon, also served as a judge for the slam and said it was difficult to actually score the poetry performances. “It was hard because they are all really good and I felt really bad,” said Lemon. “If I gave it a 10, I got chills and it connected with me,” she added.
The competition moved quickly with four rounds and each team designating a poet (or a group piece) to represent their college for that round. Poets had to adhere to a strict three minute time frame and would receive point deduction penalties for going over the ten second grace period.
As the host for the evening, Brooklyn College led in the first round with Khadijah Johnson performing a comical poem referencing social media and pop culture. This performance was followed up by NYU senior student, Crystal Valentine. Sister schools, Barnard and Columbia were represented by a student who goes by the name of Natachi in the first round.
By the end of all four rounds, students were applauding and snapping their approval for the poets, while booing and gasping at unflattering scores from the judges.
Most poems performed were passionate stories of resilience, race, gender, sexuality and love. Some poems were angry rants about rejection or “F*** Boys.” Two group pieces were presented during the slam. While the group poems were performed by different slam teams (NYU and Brooklyn College), both outlined the struggles of being a woman in a patriarchal society. “To be black and woman and alive is to be resilient,” said Crystal Valentine during her group poem performed with another female student from NYU.
The Women of BC Slam Team
Jenna Carter-Johnson, Khadijah Johnson, Soré Agbaje and Kearah Armonie are the women of the Brooklyn College Slam team. Together they represented Brooklyn College at Thursday’s slam as well as made various appearances this semester at several events on and off campus.
Sergio Jimenez, Brooklyn College student and the only male on the BC slam team, sat back and let the ladies represent during Thursday’s slam. “The only difficulty is writing group poems,” said Jimenez. “When you’re on a team where topics consist of ‘post f*** boy syndrome’ you can’t really find a way to take part.
Nevertheless, it does feel good to be open and vulnerable with them,” he added, referencing the slam team’s newly debuted group piece.
Despite having a common gender, each female member brings a different style and different experiences to the team.
Jenna Carter-Johnson, was originally inspired to write poetry by her grandmother who was a big fan of Langston Hughes. Following in her grandmother’s footsteps, Carter-Johnson became a fan of Hughes herself and “here I am,” she said, referring to her role on the BC Slam Team.
Kearah Armonie, who serves as the secretary for the BC Slam Team said she is inspired by “everything from birth.” Her inspiration stems from what she has been through, her experiences, and life in general. Spoken word in particular is important to her because of “educating others and reaching out to others through writing,” she added.
Soré Agbaje also says she is inspired by everyday life. “Everything inspires me. I have the need to get things out,” said Agbaje. Recently Agbaje served as editor in-chief of the Brooklyn College Odyssey team. She also works with a youth empowerment group called Urban Word NYC holding slams and writing workshops for teens.
Khadijah Johnson, one of the youngest members on the team says her inspiration for writing poetry comes more from the less-notable things. “It’s more like the small experiences,” said Johnson. “Everything you are passionate about, that you don’t know it can be turned into a poem. There’s poetry in each aspect of your life that you love,” she added.
Last Thursday’s slam was only a glimpse at what the team will face during the national poetry competition in Texas. In preparation for nationals, the team says they are working harder than ever. “I’m excited and terrified,” said Agbaje. “I’ve come to care about this process a lot,” she added.