Take the Mic thrills Schine Underground

Take the Mic thrills Schine Underground

Poets perform their prose at Verbal Blend's poetry slam final.
Published: April 14, 2022
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Poet Tyler Gentry performs his spoken word work at the Take the Mic Poetry Slam at the Schine Underground on Wednesday.

Everyone’s feet pounded on the floor in a rapid but rhythmic drumroll, not dissimilar to a football third down. Cedric Bolton, Syracuse University professor and faculty advisor of Verbal Blend, stood at the microphone announcing who of the six performers won the poetry slam. As he announced each winner — Kayla Turner in third, Ameya Mahalexmikar in second, and Arianna Wilson in first — the room exploded in cheers.

On Wednesday night, the on-campus poetry organization Verbal Blend hosted the Take the Mic Poetry Slam final featuring competitors from SUNY ESF, SU and OCC in Schine Underground. Famous slam poet Rudy Francisco emceed the event and was inducted into Nu Rho Poetic Society as an honorary member.

“It feels exciting and nerve-wracking at the same time,” Bolton said after the event, reflecting on what it took to host the first in-person slam since 2019. “It’s like doing a jump shot. You ain’t shoot in a while, but you shoot a couple times, you’ll make a shot. That’s what it feels like.”

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Arianna Wilson performs her environment-focused poem, for which she won first place.

The night began with Francisco introducing the five judges and explaining to the novice audience how poetry slams work. “What we like is call and response,” he said. He encouraged the initially hesitant audience to be verbal and engage with the speakers before calling up the first poet of the night.

There were two rounds of poems, the first with a 3-minute limit but no topic, the second with a 1-minute limit and the topic of the environment. The six competitors went up to the stage and into the spotlight, one at a time, some choosing to use the music stand, some holding their phones, some reciting from memory. Each speaker had their own rhythm and a range of subjects.

“When you know how it’s supposed to sound or what it’s supposed to be like, you can easily fall into a pattern of repetitiveness,” Francisco said. “But, when you come to something like this where people are newer, they approach the craft with such a fresh perspective.”

After each performance, the judges held up a rating out of 10, which Francisco read out in ascending order. Audience members were encouraged to cheer for scores they agreed with and boo for scores they disliked.

This engaging environment brought a sense of community and energy into the room, fostered by the powerful displays of emotion onstage. The room felt safe and supportive, a community Bolton said he tries to foster.

“They can feel that momentum, that love, that I can do this,” he said.

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Host and well-known slam poet Rudy Francisco performs several of his poems at the competition.

Following the students, judge Lori Fernandez performed a powerful spoken word poem about institutionalized racism, after which Francisco performed. His performance was an energizing blend of transitions reminiscent of standup comedy and poetry that left the audience unable to do anything but cheer.

“Having [Francisco] in the same room, sharing the stage with him is enthralling, to say the least,” said second-place winner and iSchool graduate student, Mahalexmikar.

When Bolton announced the first place winner and the room stomped like they were at a Queen concert, Ari Wilson, an undecided sophomore, burst into tears. “It’s an out-of-body experience,” she said. “It doesn’t feel real.”

Wilson said she’s been writing poetry since the fifth grade, but Wednesday night was the first time she had ever performed. Her late grandmother is her inspiration, as she was working on a book of poems that was never published. “I always wanted to eventually finish her book and publish it for her,” Wilson said.

The event concluded with photos, laughter and a sense of community. Smiles and clumps of students were all around as people reflected on the night of powerful performances.

Reflecting on his second visit to Syracuse, Francisco said, “It’s really awesome to see an institution that has poetry culture on the campus.”