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Dean of Student Life Becomes Poetry Slam Champ

Published: August 31, 2007
Section: Arts, Etc.


Associate Dean of Student Life Jamele Adams sat down with Diverse City to talk about his busy summer, Langston Hughes and the history behind his poetry.
Diverse City: So I hear you had a very busy summer competing in two poetry competitions.

Jamele Adams: Thats right. I was on one of two teams from Boston to compete in the National Poetry Slam, involving 75 teams. The competition was held in Texas and our team ended up 30th, but one of our team members ranked fifth in the individual competition. This was my second year in a row on the Boston team. Its called the Lizard Lounge, after this music club in Cambridge.

I also competed in the Talk to Me Poetry Slam and became the East Coast champion. Ive gone through city, state, regional and coast competitions and now Im waiting to find out who the national champion is. Ive already performed;

Im just waiting for the decision.

DC: How often did you have to rehearse to prepare for the National Poetry Slam and what did you have to do to participate?

JA: There were lots of rehearsals this summer. We met every Sunday for eight weeks from 5:30-7 p.m. Slam poetry is like poetic chess. The competition consists of three rounds of poetry with three minutes for each poem. The judges are selected audience members chosen at the venue and they assign you a score on a scale of one to ten.
But my summer wasnt all about the competitions;

I also spent some of the time at the Center for American Progress and performed in front of congressmen and diplomats in regards to Darfur. I also performed at youth programs, such as R.A.P.P. [Relationship Abuse Prevention Program], a summer leadership program for youth living in New York City.

DC: How long have you been performing poetry?

JA: Ive been performing poetry at this level for about five years, traveling to different places to perform all over the country. I havent been to Los Angeles yet. Id really like to perform there.

DC: So how did you make that leap from writing poetry to actually performing it in front of people?

JA: Someone read some of my poetry and suggested that I share it with others. It just so happens that the night I went to share it at a coffee shop, they were hosting a poetry competition. If you wanted to share, you had to compete. I didnt win that night, but I kept coming back to win. People would hear me there and began inviting me to speak at high schools, youth groups and Fortune 500 companies.

DC: So what differences are there between just performing poetry and performing poetry as part of a competition?

JA: When I performed poetry, I was doing it just to do it, to put it out there.
Competing makes it a sport and you have to start thinking of timing and your team and everyone else and put yourself last.

DC: What rituals do you have to prepare yourself before a performance?

JA: Im extremely nervous, when I speak publicly or perform publicly. Im putting my intelligence and pride on display. I find a quiet place to think about it and visualize a successful delivery and then I go out and give it my best.

Performing for three minutes feels like an hour workout. If Im doing a set it feels like a three-hour workout. People dont want me to waste the attention that theyre giving to me. I realize it might be the only time someone hears me. I just dont take any ears donated to me for granted.

DC: What in your past made you interested in poetry?

JA: It started out when I was eight or nine years old living in Harlem. [My friends and I] would find an old abandoned car and wed stand on top of it and start rapping about whatever eight or nine year olds rap about.

Our biggest hit was this thing called President, where you would say what you would do if you were president. A lot of the time it had to do with helping poor people. But my interest in performing back then grew from my idolization of rappers.

DC: How did you move from being an eight year old rapping in Harlem to a poet?

JA: I studied poetry but that wasnt really what attracted me to it. What got me interested in poetry was Langston Hughes. Not only was he a black male, but he was also homosexual or bisexual living in a time when his views were not accepted.
To write like he did was courageous. He had a smooth exterior but the heart of a lion as well as the intelligence and wit of an artistic genius.

I actually had the honor of being in a documentary about him and performing a poem about Harlem. I got to visit his house and sit at his table and touch the typewriter he typed on.

Hes shown me not to fear exposing who I am and not to be scared to tell the truth, which gets harder as you get older. When youre older, you imagine that after you die or stop writing, people are going to find what you write and study what they find. You begin to write with that in mind.

As a young person, you feel invulnerable so you write with this sense of honesty and bluntness. Its like when youre 25 and older and offering someone a piece of gum compared to being 12 years old and telling that person their breath stinks.

Poetry from people who are over the age of 60 is the most important poetry you can hear. They dont really have time to think of how everyone feels, but this is reality and what they feel. Im amazed because I cant write that kind of poetry because I havent lived that life yet.

Editor's Note: The following is a poem by Jamele Adams titled “Incredible” on the subject of domestic abuse.

Fist dicing wind;

with diamond cut precision,
hurling pain.
She said the greatest poem ever spoken;

I love you
Fists blossomed into open hands
stretching the wingspan of pain.
One blow from killing.
She stopped her lover from executing,
her rapist.
His life wasnt worth her losing love.
1twoamy publishing harlym125@aol.com