Keegan and Esnard to travel to New York for collegiate slam competition

By Emma Moley | 11/12/12 6:00am

On November 3, fifteen Dartmouth students performed three-minute-long original slam poetry pieces, in the hopes of obtaining a free trip to New York for a collegiate slam invitational. The two winners were Alan Keegan ’14 and Bobby Esnard ’14.

This competition, held in One Wheelock, was hosted by Athee Le ’12, co-author of the poetry book Feral Citizensand touring slam poet. The day before the qualifier, Le held a slam poetry workshop in Collis 212, open to all aspiring poets.

The competition was one of two qualifiers for the College Unions Poetry Slam Invitational(CUPSI)which will be held at Barnard College from April 3 to April 6. CUPSI, produced by the Association of College Unions International, invites colleges around the nation to showcase their spoken poetry talent every year. At last year’s invitational held at the University of La Verne, New York University took first, followed by Macalester College, University of California-Berkeley and Stanford University.

In order to qualify to compete at CUPSI, each college must hold a slam competition to choose its participants. Dartmouth plans to have three members on its team. Two were chosen on November 3, and another will be chosen at a second qualifying competition in the winter.

During slams, five audience members are selected as judges, scoring the poets on a scale of one to ten. The highest and lowest scores are dropped, with 30 as the highest possible total. This qualifier had three rounds, with four people competing in the final round.

Of Keegan’s three pieces, one described a hypothetical situation in which Keegan approached a crush, another contained words for his future son and the third was about a man hitting his girlfriend. Esnard performed a piece about his frustrations with our technological world, a piece about a broken home and a piece about cancer and lying about illness.

Keegan has not yet written the pieces he will perform at the competition in the spring, though he is currently working on both slam poetry and various written pieces.

A large number of other universities also feature slam poetry organizations, and Dartmouth travels to Yale and SUNY New Paltz each year to compete.

The Soul Scribes perform several times a term at Greek houses and host open mics every other Thursday in One Wheelock. Next term, the performances will be moved to their usual time on Wednesdays, and they will attract a larger audience, according to Keegan.

The organization meets every week to share and develop pieces. Many members attend meetings simply to collaborate with fellow poets, without the intention of sharing their work at performances.

The Soul Scribes also occasionally open for poets brought in by the College. On October 13, the group performed before award-winning International Spoken Word Artist Gabriela Garcia Medina.

Slam poetry features a wide range of styles, though most pieces are charged with emotion and rhythm. Creating pieces that will be performed, not read, requires a unique writing approach.

“You can do a lot of things performing that you can’t do in writing,” Keegan said. “The way the words are put on the page affect how people read it. Line breaks and stanza breaks don’t have the same visual significance when you’re performing.”

Bobby Esnard performing at TEDxDartmouth in 2011:

From his piece on technology that he performed at the qualifier: "How did it happen that we lost the longing to listen to voices, and have we lost the autonomy to make our own choices? Cause right now, AOL has America Online and America on a leash. And when you no longer look into real eyes, how long will it take for you to realize that you're living in real lies?"

From his TEDX performance: "And you might not realize, but feeling something from poetry happens all the time. It's why it's so cute when kids speak, because they dont create clauses, they don't play with paragraphs — they speak in stanzas, their words sing in the prose for prose. And that's poetry — getting you something, because you don't get poetry, poetry gets you."

Emma Moley