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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Brandeis underdog slam team triumphs

Published: March 20, 2009
Section: Arts, Etc.

The Brandeis Slam Team has just proven itself the ultimate dark horse candidate, becoming the only first year team to advance to the semi-finals of this year’s College Unions Poetry Slam Invitational. The competition, which took place last weekend at University of Pennsylvania, celebrates spoken word poetry as a force of a creative expression and democratic values.

The Brandeis team, which is only a few months old and consists of mostly novice slam poets, prevailed over many more experienced poetry groups on the strength of their original material and performance abilities. Jason Henry Simon-Bierenbaum ‘11, the most experienced poet on the team, served as coach along with Dean Jamele Adams. The other members of the team include Nicole Izbicky ‘11, Kass Steinhouse ‘12, David Wayne ‘12, and Usman Hameedi ’12. I had a chance to sit down with Jason to discuss the team’s remarkable victory

– Interview –

MP: The Brandeis Slam Team has only been practicing for a few months together, and most have been slamming for less than six months. What the process of preparing everyone to compete?

JHSB: We practiced for like a month and a half before going over. I’ve had some experience coaching before…and Dean Jamele Adams was a great help. We did some experimenting with writing prompts, and once the group had loosened up, we had more of an idea what everybody’s style was. Then the practices started to shift to, like, okay, you’ve got a new piece, do you want some feedback? Or they would perform it and we would time it…And then we would work on a piece part by part for the performance…We’d work on getting to capture emotion better. I think emotions are a big thing in poetry, especially when it’s performed.

MP: You mentioned that over time, the members seemed to come into their own style, but how would characterize the Brandeis Slam Team as a group?

JHSB: One of the advantages of being a young team is that we didn’t have an overall group style. I definitely think there was some cohesion…but overall each has a very different style of writing and performance, which was definitely a good thing for us. There’s another advantage of many people on the group not having seen many performance poets, [because] they could work on finding their own way.

MP: What did you find the most challenging part of the tournament?

JHSB: I guess our second bout, there were three other teams all with similar styles, and the judges were really going for that, but they weren’t really going for ours. It was like, how do we win over the judges while still doing pieces we want to do and maintaining artistic integrity…We were in fourth place going into the third round, so we had to break out our group piece, the “Dork Diaries,” a very Brandeisian piece…and that piece got a 29.9 out of 30, and that put us from fourth place to first place, and we were able to ride out the victory and end up winning the bout that halfway through we were dead last in.