Thursday night, the Sett was packed with poetry fans waiting to cheer on some of UW Madison’s most creative poets. WUD-Music and UW Flash Fiction were holding their second annual (but my first ever) poetry slam. My friends and I were lucky enough to snag a table right in front after stocking up on some Babcock Mocha Macchiato. Little did I know that the show I was about to see was going to be my real treat for the night.
Blowing swirly fog into the air, a smoke machine accompanied cheeky dubstep during the moments of anticipation before the show started. Last year’s winner, Ebonee Berry, opened the show to give the audience a taste of what the contestants’ poetry was going to be like. From the second Ebonee opened her mouth to recite, I’m pretty sure my mouth dropped open too and remained that way for the entire show. I had expected to watch some students read their poetry off a piece of paper in front of a microphone, but I was pleasantly surprised as to how wrong I was. Ebonee and the six poets who competed in the Slam didn’t read their poetry—they performed it. They spoke their words with a rhythm that was mirrored by their bodies while they presented their poems. Even more impressive, all of the poets had completely memorized both of the poems they performed!
Even though I was new to slam poetry, I quickly picked up on the rules of the game. Each poet got to perform twice, and each of their turns had to remain under three minutes, or points would be docked from their score. Unexpectedly to me, the audience was responsible for judging the poets. Five randomly selected groups from the crowd scored the contestants on a scale from one to ten, and the rest of the audience was responsible for cheering their approval or booing their disagreement with the given scores.
Emcee Ben Elmakias, UW Flash Fiction’s editor-in-chief, announced all of the competing poets and enthusiastically rallied for energy from the crowd throughout the show. As a huge fan of poetry myself, I was delighted when each of the poets took the stage. I honestly cannot do them justice in describing how fantastic they were; I don’t think it is possible to capture the beauty of them reading their original poems out loud on a piece of paper. The six competing poets—Zander Miller, Michael Penn, Eli Lynch (“Smiley Gatmouth”), Ajanaé Dawkins, Sabrina Ross, and Will Santino—each delivered their powerful poems with their own distinct styles. From rapping to singing, raunchy jokes to powerful emotions, the talented poets created a colorful palette of art for the audience to enjoy. The poetry read expressed everything from humor, evoking laughter from the audience, to much more serious topics, giving me chills. When a poet performed a line of poetry that was especially breathtaking, the audience members snapped to show their admiration.
The only bad thing about the show was that I now wish I had copies of the poems so I could experience them again! All six poets put on phenomenal performances, but at the end of the night only one could be declared winner of the competition (although in my opinion, all six of the poets are definitely going to succeed in their lives time and time again with their poetry). Michael Penn placed third, “Smiley Gatmouth” took second, and the first prize, a one hundred dollar gift card donated from Ian’s Pizza, went to freshman Ajanaé Dawkins – maybe she’ll be pulling an Ellen Degeneres sometime soon! As for me, I know I’ll be in line for front row seats at next year’s poetry slam.