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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

The Final Slam: Poets get ‘VOCAL’

Slam poets compete to form team to go to national invitational

Published: February 11, 2011
Section: Features

host with the most: Jason Henry Simon-Bierenbaum ’11 hosted the event, making him ineligible to compete, but he will serve as team captain.

On Tuesday, Feb. 8, VOCAL poetry held its most important event of the year, The Final Slam. It was a night filled with nerves, poets and nervous poets; it brought out the best in the poets—those who came to slam and those who came to be slammed.

The Final Slam was held to determine who would have the opportunity to be part of the 2011 Brandeis Slam Team and travel to the University of Michigan to compete in the College Unions Poetry Slam Invitational (CUPSI) from April 6 through 9. The Final Slam served as the conclusion to the Brandeis Open Mic Series (B.O.M.S.), which has been holding bi-weekly events since the beginning of the fall semester, consisting of a workshop, an open mic, a spotlight performance by a student poet and a feature performance by a professional poet. B.O.M.S. nights conclude with a poetry slam—a competitive poetry reading, consisting of three rounds in which original poems, no longer than three minutes in length, are scored by random judges on a scale of one to ten based on the poem itself and the poet’s performance.

The impressive qualifiers for The Final Slam included: Sara Kass Levy ’12, Jason Henry Simon-Bierenbaum ’11, Stephen Cadigan ’13, Daniel Goulden ’14, Jordan Hinahara ’12, Rachel Downs ’13, Rachel Parkin ’12, Rawda Aljawhary ’13, Usman Hameedi ’12, Ashley Lynette ’13 and Rachel Benjamin ’14 (Benjamin qualified but was unable to compete due to other engagements). All of these qualifiers gained eligibility for the event by winning a past slam or participating in other parts of B.O.M.S. events including spotlighting, reading at open mic or participating in a past slam.

The Final Slam—held in Castle Commons—was to be hosted by Associate Dean of Student Life Jamele Adams. Unfortunately, Adams was held up in transit and was unable to attend. In his stead, VOCAL poetry founder, Jason Henry Simon-Bierenbaum sacrificed his spot in the competition in order to host The Final Slam, which disqualified him from the team.

The event was opened by two “sacrificial” poets, Kori Perten ’13 and Jason Henry Simon-Bierenbaum. These poets didn’t compete in the slam; instead, they each allowed one of their pieces to be scored by the judges so that they would modulate scores and see what the judging process entails before scoring actual slam contestants.

Once the sacrificial poets had read, the competition began. The order of performances was chosen at random and each poet presented their first piece for judgment.

Following the first round, the poet awarded the lowest score was eliminated. The second round’s order was based on the scores of the previous round, starting from the poets with the highest scores to the lowest scores. At the close of the second round, there were two poets whose scores matched as the lowest, and therefore there was no elimination. The third round ordered the poets from lowest to highest score.

Each poet gave their heart to the audience in every poem they read, however, after the dust of the incredible performance had settled, only five poets remained.

This year’s Brandeis University Slam Team consists of Rawda Aljawhary, Ashley Lynette, Jordan Hinahara, Sara Kass Levy and Usman Hameedi.

For CUPSI, each team member is required to prepare several solo poems and the team as a whole is responsible to collaborate on several group pieces. Together, the team will train and be coached by Usman Hameedi in preparation for their trip to Michigan. In addition to their rigorous individual training, the team will engage in sparring matches with other local slam teams at the bi-weekly B.O.M.S. events. These practice exercises are designed to prepare team members for CUPSI and to allow them to meet contestants from other schools before the competition itself.

The Brandeis team will be debuting its individual and group performance pieces at VOCAL poetry’s Main Event—a showcase of local and national poets, hosted by VOCAL as a fundraiser for a Waltham after-school program—on April 3.

This article has been changed to reflect the following correction:
Usman Hameedi is the coach of the team that will compete at CUPSI, not Jason Henry Simon-Bierenbaum.