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Photo: Jim Zietz/LSU Communications & University Relations

Students, community members express themselves in Annual Poetry Slam

She took the stage and looked out at the crowd; more than 100 faces were watching her, waiting. She smoothed her black t-shirt and straightened the white headband in her hair. Opening her eyes, she burst into prose, reciting a poem about a middle school teacher struggling to teach her students the right lessons.

But Tasha Weatherspoon is not a middle school teacher. Instead, she is a graduate student at Southeastern University, where she studies speech pathology. Weatherspoon is Baton Rouge’s reigning Slam Master and on this particular night, she stayed true to her word. That night, she was the host of LSU’s annual Poetry Slam, held in the Student Union’s Live Oak Lounge.

“This is a poetry reading, not a funeral,” Weatherspoon said to the crown. “I’m going to need an energy check.”

Slam poetry is a form of spoken word that is performed at a competitive event. There are no true rules to a poetry slam, although there are time restraints and judges. The performers had to keep their poems under 3 minutes and 10 seconds. Judges were picked randomly from the audience and scored the performances on a decimal scale from zero to 10. The highest and lowest scores were eliminated and the remaining three scores were averaged.

The 12 performers of the night signed up right before the competition began. The Poetry Slam was hosted by the Student Activities Board, which is a division of Campus Life.

The first competitor to take the stage was student P. Michael Hays, performing “Walking Contradiction,” a poem about self-discovery.

“But like I said, I’m a walking contradiction. Contradiction. Heart says this, mind says that, soul says something completely different,” he said.

The crowd roared in applause before Weatherspoon welcomed student Andrew Robertson to the stage to perform a more somber poem.

“We must tear out every page of every book,” he said. “So long, reality.”

“According to biology junior Shelia Chockalingam, who works with the Student Activities Board, the Poetry Slam was open to university students and members of the Baton Rouge community. She said many of the students who perform at the slam know each other from other slams around the city.

Creative writing senior Craig Magraff took the stage and performed a poem about “a place called poetry.” In Magraff’s poem, poetry is a place “where anything is possible, where ‘roses are red and violets are blue.’ A place where dreams come true.” Magraff took fourth place in the slam.

A favorite of the night, taking second place, was biological sciences junior Theo Williams. His poem was politically charged, describing life without his father after losing him to the Iraq war. Williams wrote and performed poetry in high school but didn’t start competing in slams until he got to LSU. He received one of the only 10s that evening.

The night’s winner was electrical engineering junior Charlaya Washington, who performed, “Rise of the Elite.” Her poem was about “the LSU experience,” as it described memorable areas on campus such as Free Speech Alley and Death Valley — “where skies are purple, and there are golden streets.”

While Washington said she started slamming a year ago in smaller groups, this was her first actual competition.

“I wrote the poem recently,” she said. “It took longer to write than it took to memorize it.”

According to Avery Smith, assistant director of campus life, the top five poets of the slam will have a chance to represent LSU at the American College Union International Regional Poetry Slam Competition in February, provided there are available funds.

“Last year, the slam was held in the Magnolia Room, which only holds 120,” Smith said. “This year we had 133 in the audience. It went exceptionally well.”

By the end of the evening, Weatherspoon explained it perfectly: “It’s about the poetry, not about the points.”


Holly Ann Phillips | Editor | Office of Communications & University Relations
November 2009