Students speak up through slam poetry with Ebony Stewart

On Wednesday, April 13, students had a chance to see a performance poetry competition at Bellevue College.  The event was sponsored by the Campus Activities Board and hosted by performance artist, spoken word poet and active artist Ebony Stewart.

This was the second poetry slam at BC, and the first one to be structured as a competition. Poets Maryam, Joy and Amay performed in the last slam as well, and new additions include Antonio, Fedilla and Tenesha.

Each year CAB has the chance to attend a showcase of speakers, poets and musicians who are available to bring into the school. CAB Event Coordinator Jessica Bagdasarov explained that she knew of Stewart through her own interest in spoken word and shared the team’s enthusiasm for her humor and entertainment capabilities.

Slam Poetry again - c

Stewart performed a few poems of her own and kept the audience engaged throughout by encouraging everyone to respond vocally to poetry that made them feel something. She brought a mix of laughter and opportunities for self-reflection as she called out big issues and reminded people to have fun simultaneously.

Approximately 120 tickets out of the 150 CAB ordered were sold before 3 p.m. the day of the event. The C building was full of guests who enjoyed complimentary coffee and cupcakes and the aesthetics of candlelit tables.

“We’re really excited to see a turnout like this, especially for something like poetry,” Bagdasarov expressed. She explained that part of the reason they chose to come to BC was for the combination of her raw emotional content with a balance of humor that everyone can relate to.

Slam poetry began in a bar in Chicago in the ‘80s as a modern take on the beat poetry movement of the ‘60s. Slam poetry is a competition format that stresses the performance aspect almost as much as the content of the written pieces. Poetry competitions often take place in bars and encourage audience participation in the form of vocal responses and the audience’s judgement determines the final champion.

After hearing five raw and emotional poems dealing with issues of identity, race and discrimination, each audience member had a chance to vote on the winner. Joy came in first place with a poem focusing on police brutality and the loss of young black lives. Fedilla placed second with a poem about being a black student feeling underrepresented and marginalized in the school system in which she grew up. Third place went to Tenesha, who was performing for the first time and shared a “Where I’m From” poem detailing her personal identity as someone who is mixed race.

Slam Poetry group photo - c

Several of the poets’ bios included a history or intent to use poetry as a tool for activism and social change. Audience members felt similarly about the role poetry can play. Sakara Tyson, at the event to support her friend Joy, expressed that “The best thing you can do as a poet is to make the audience feel uncomfortable.”

In addition to the competing poets, attendees got the chance to hear poetry from BC director of Multicultural Services, Aaron Reader as well as Bagdasarov.

As ballots were counted, audience members got a chance to talk to the poets. When poet Maryam heard a peer express that he wished he could do what she did, she told him that he absolutely could. “Anyone can write if you just get past that internal critic. Everything you write is from your subconscious, from your heart. So to be a poet you just need to let go of that voice that tells you you aren’t good enough.”

Tenesha explained that to her, “poetry is a platform where I can express myself. It doesn’t even matter if people like it, really, I shared it to give you another perspective that you might not have heard about before. People think that their voice is not important because they are just another person, but really everyone’s voice is so powerful.”

While BC does not currently have a poetry or writing club, it has in the past and several faculty expressed that they would be willing to advise for a club if it was created. The new faces from this poetry slam were inspired by the last event in November and seeing their peers perform gave them the confidence to audition this time around. Each audition is open to anyone to try, so anyone interested is encouraged try out at any future slams.