The Cave in Claremont McKenna College’s Marks Hall basement was alive Friday night with the sound of snaps and passionate voices as renowned slam poet Thomas Fucaloro held an open mic night. The evening of student performances was a combined effort on the part of the CMC Art Council and the Center for Writing and Public Discourse (CWPD).
“At CMC we have become more engaged with fostering the arts on campus,” said Jen Vaccaro CM ’17, who helped organize the event. “We hope this event will inspire students to begin or continue to explore their ideas through writing.”
This was the first event held at The Cave featuring a guest artist. Fucaloro, a writer from New York City, has published two poetry books and been on two national slam poetry teams. He is also the managing editor of NYSAI Press, a biannual literary magazine.
Prior to the event, Fucaloro led a slam poetry workshop where a group of students worked with him to write a few of their own poems, which they later performed at The Cave. Students who attended the workshop said that Fucaloro helped them get past self-judgment so they could write more freely.
Fucaloro’s works are raw and witty, inciting feelings of vulnerability. He bounced up to the microphone between student performances to share his words, and the audience responded with copious applause.
Despite the event being an open mic, Fucaloro used no amplification throughout the night, owing his loud voice to his New York upbringing and Italian roots. Between poems, his manner was humble and appreciative—much less intimidating than one might expect based on the power with which he recited his work.
Students recited humorous poems as well as more serious works. Although every performer had a different style, they all impressed with their rhythmic verbosity. Many made use of the rapid and quippy style characteristic of slam poems, with each phrase strung together with clever wordplay.
Slam poems are usually limited to three minutes and tend to include political or other current references. Typically at slams, each writer is graded on his or her performance. Friday’s open mic event, however, was non-competitive to allow more creative freedom.
“Slam poetry is powerful because it allows poets to express their own raw emotion about their pieces and engage directly with their audience,” Vaccaro said. “These events are also times when poets, writers and those engaged with creativity can all come together and appreciate the power of the written word.”
This is the first time the CWPD has collaborated with the Art Council. Kenny Cunanan CM ’15, one of the head consultants at the CWPD, explained that the center decided to take advantage of the fact that there was an established creative community on campus by joining forces for this event.
“I think if there were just one group organizing this, it would not have been nearly as successful,” he said.
Turnout at the event was even higher than expected. Though the open mic event was also the first of the semester, its popularity is also an indication of the growing desire for creative outlets at CMC.
“I have noticed that there has been a steady increase in people interested in forming a creative community on campus,” Cunanan said.
The CWPD is addressing such sentiment by emphasizing its role as a creative resource for writers and not just as a place to receive feedback on essays. Directors are planning on hosting more workshops and write-ins in the future.
“We want to create a space where writers in the Claremont community can come and just write without any inhibition,” Cunanan said.