Slam Poetry Brings New Voices to Claremont

Slam poets Michelle Jackson and Mae Ramirez came to the 5Cs as part of an effort by Frank Sanchez PO ’13 to bring slam poetry to Claremont. The 5C Slam Poetry Kickoff event was on Wednesday, Oct. 24, and several Pomona College students performed their own work in a short open mic before the professional poets took the stage.

Sanchez’s thesis in gender and women’s studies focuses on slam poetry not only as an art form, but as a subculture.

“I’m looking at how spoken word disrupts our normal notion of community,” Sanchez said.

Beyond studying and immersing himself in slam poetry, Sanchez is looking to make spoken word a more integrated form of performance here at the 5Cs. The afternoon before Jackson and Ramirez performed, the poets facilitated a writing workshop called “Truth or Dare: Baring Yourself through Poetry.”

This theme carried into their performance. The first poem Jackson performed was entitled “Theater of War: My Parent’s Divorce in Three Acts.” Throughout the night, both Jackson and Ramirez addressed themes like family, cultural identity, violence, painful relationships and body image.

Their language was both raw and relatable. Audience members cringed as Jackson described a love affair with an ex-Marine. There were murmurs of appreciation as Ramirez praised her Mexican mother, and declared that “in her warm, fat, forever nestle for nine months, the love for her culture ran so fast through her veins that it crossed the finish line with me into this American world.”

Ramirez praised honesty and clarity as some of the most important characteristics of slam poetry.

“I also love really good figurative language,” Ramirez said. “A lot of poems address the same big themes. Everyone has a love poem. But when people find good, surprising metaphors to describe these same big themes, they can make them new again.”

Jackson and Ramirez met through mutual friends, and realized they had both attended the same college at different times. Both had participated on slam teams. With their shared passion for poetry, they went on to found Duende! Long Beach in August 2011.

Duende! is a grassroots community arts organization providing a variety of mentoring and performance opportunity to youth in the Long Beach area. Within the organization, Jackson and Ramirez co-coach a youth slam team, consisting of six powerful voices all under the age of 19. This team competed in Brave New Voices, a national youth slam competition.

With Duende!, the women used spoken word as a form of social outreach to encourage youth in their community. This is just one of the many functions of the spoken word culture, all of which Sanchez addresses in his thesis.

Only a handful of students performed at the introductory open mic, but Sanchez seemed encouraged by the turnout.

“It’s always great to see people come out just to hear the poetry,” Ramirez said.

If students are interested in joining the spoken word movement here at the Claremont Colleges, they should check out 5Cs Out Loud, a writing circle that meets on Thursdays, and stay tuned for upcoming events and performances.

For those looking to try their hand at slam poetry, Jackson and Ramirez had simple advice.

“The best slam poems aren’t actually slam poems,” Jackson said. “They’re usually just great pieces of writing that somebody learned to perform very well.”

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