The Michigan Daily - michigandaily.com
Thursday, October 21, 2010 - 3B
. Poetry speaks to A2 communI
Performance poetry groups U-club and
Wordworks each offer their distinctive
take on the art form
By Carly Steinberger I Daily Arts Writer
A microphone always helps get
your message to the masses. But in
the right hands, a microphone sends
a personal and passionate message
about life, society and struggle -
a message that, while expressed
fine in writing, truly comes alive
in vocal performance. And in Ann
Arbor, the right hands grasp the mic
at U-club's bi-weekly performances.
During the open mic portion of
the Oct. 7 show, a young man took
the stage, ukulele in hand, and pro-
ceeded to play part of the song "5
Years Time" by the band Noah and
the Whale. Another delivered a
poem about perseverance. One more
read a poem praising her roommate.
Anyone can take the stage during
the open mic segment of the show.
They can read whatever they want
- something they've been work-
ing on for months or something
theycompleted in five minutes. The
pieces don't necessarily have to be
poetry, and often they're not.
The poets who competed in the
poetry slam following the open mic
employed several different delivery
styles: Some spoke rapidly and pas-
sionately, while others favored a
somber tone. Five judges - volun-
teers from the audience - were pro-
vided with white boards to rank the
performers on a scale of one to 10.
One competitor solemnly perfor-
mend a poem about rape. Another
shared a poem about being high,
which he performed animatedly,
walking around the stage, throwing
out hand gestures and fluctuating
the volume of his voice. The winner
of the slam presented a clever poem
about the race and class dynam-
ics of being robbed as a white man
in Detroit, which he speedily yet
After each slam ends, the fea-
tured poet takes the stage and pres-
ents the audience with a sampling of
his or her work.
Oct. 7's featured poet goes by
the stage name Versiz, though his
real name is Jamaal May. He gave
a powerful performance, putting a
creative, poetic spin on tough topics
like war. Still, harsher themes can
be performed alongside optimism.
"A lot of times I try to perform
encouraging poems," May said.
"You know, poems about possibili-
ties. They are to some extent opti-
mistic but not in a hokey false way."
One of May's chief goals is to
"bring poetry to the people." A pub-
lished poet, May has been asked
to perform at locations like Notre
Dame, Indiana University and, of
course, at U-club.
While the Oct. 7 U-club featured
vastly different performers, one
theme pervaded all of their of work:
self-expression. It was clear most of
the performers wrote about person-
al experiences or greater societal
ideas that sparked their passions.
U-club simply provided the venue.
"It's a really laid back atmosphere
in which anyone can participate,"
said LSA junior Angela Crumdy,
U-club's vice president. "And it's just
a good place if you want to grow as
Crumdy talked about some of
the other events the organiza-
tion makes happen. In early Feb-
ruary, for example, U-club holds
the "Penis Monologues" - a show
consisting of penis-themed group
pieces and monologues performed
by men. And the club has started a
slam in conjunction with the Alpha
Phi Alpha fraternity for Black His-
At the end of every slam season,
U-club also hosts a Grand Slam,
in which all the winners of the bi-
weekly slams participate. The top
five scorers comprise the University
of Michigan team that will be sent
to the College Unions Poetry Slam
Invitational, colloquially known as
College Nationals. This year CUPSI
willbe held inAnnArbor; lastyear's
location was Emerson College in
Amariah Stepter is U-club's
president. A fifth-year LSA senior,
Stepter has been involved with
U-club since she was a freshman.
"Performance poetry allows you
to relate more and connect to the
poem," Stepter said, "And instead
of reading it with my own voice and
my own cadence I am visualizing
what (the author) experienced, ver-
sus putting myself in their shoes."
Crumdy generally prefers perfor-
mance poetry to written poems, but
"For performance poetry, there's
a really big theater aspect and you
have to be able to use your voice as a
tool and your body as tool," Crumdy
said. "On paper you have to do all of
those things and not be present."
Aside from organizing U-club
events and watching them unfold,
Crumdy and Stepter are both poets
"I would call myself a poet who
sometimes performs," Crumdy said.
"I write every day - I have a jour-
nal, but it's not necessarily poetry. If
there's certain things I find inspir-
ing I'll write them down."
Crumdy also talked a bit about
recurring subjects in her poems.
She said many of her poems deal
with social justice, but that most of
her poems are just about her life.
"It's a way for me to process
where I come from or things about
my family or things that happen on
campus," she said.
Stepter shared similar thoughts
about her own work.
"I turn daily events into a poem,"
she said. "They don't have a con-
sistent theme. They're just about
things I've been through and my
relationships with other people."
For Crumdy and Stepter, just like
at the slam, it's about start-to-finish
self-expression; from conception to
writing to the stage, the poets' work
truly comes from themselves.
While the U-club slams take
place on campus, there are several
other groups operating around the
Ann Arbor area that specialize
in the spoken word. One of these
groups is Wordworks, which began
"We are a group of people that
are absolutely in love with words
and what putting them together
can mean for ourselves and the
people in our community," said
Maggie Hanks, a Wordworks mem-
her studying education at Eastern
Wordworks puts on a variety of
events around town, though none
are poetry slams. Rather, they focus
on exposingthe public to the spoken
on the first and third Wednesday
of every month, Wordworks holds
LooseLeaf Writings from 6 to 9 p.m.
This year's College Unions Poetry Slam Invitational will be held in Ann Arbor.
at Ann Arbor's TeaHaus. An estab-
lished poet leads a free workshop
for college-aged and adult writers
of any level. The second Tuesday
of every month, Wordworks holds
LooseLeaf Readings from 6:30 to
9:30 p.m. An open mic follows the
featured poets reading at these
Hanks elaborated on the other
events Wordworks puts on, includ-
ing readings at the Kerrytown Book
Festival and the local teen center
Neutral Zone, along with their
annual show "Homegrown," per-
formed every January at the Lydia
"That one's really cool because
it's sort of a large-scale production
that incorporates music and ensem-
ble pieces as well as just individual
poetry," Hanks said. Homegrown
features the small group of Word-
works members exclusively.
For Hanks, all poetry is perfor-
"Roger Bonair-Agard (a poet
from Trinidad and Tobago) said
that reading poetry is an inherently
auditory experience," Hanks said,
"because even when you're reading
to yourself from the page the way
that we process words is ... you feel
it and you hear it even if its only in
your head. So there is no poem that
cannot be a performance poem."
This is not a universal belief
among poets. Mike Kulik, ajunior at
Wayne State University and aWord-
works member, offered some of his
thoughts about performance and
"The difference is the artistic ele-
ment. I think spoken word has an
easier way of conveying voice than
writtenword," Kulick said. "Person-
ally, I like the written aspect more.
If someone can read my poetry in
New York City and paint apicture of
Main Street, Ann Arbor, you know
because it's written so well."
Many Wordworks members
began their involvement with per-
formance poetry at the Neutral
Zone, a youth activities center
on Washington St. in Ann Arbor
which hosts weekly poetry gather-
ings under Creative Arts Director
Jeff Kass. The organization is also
responsible for Poetry Night in Ann
Arbor, which will occur on Nov. 4
and feature renowned poets Martin
Espada and Samantha Thornhill.
Kass, an English teacher at Pio-
neer High School, strives to inspire
young people to get involved with
performance poetry with the Neu-
tral Zone's weekly readings.
"I think that young people don't
generally get enough credit for
being as interesting and imagina-
tive as they are," Kass said. To him,
poetry slams and performance
poetry provide an outlet for kids to
show the world what they think and
what they can do.
For Kass's students, performance
poetry gives them a chance to build
writing skills and gain confidence.
The U-club and Wordworks bring
the spoken word to the Univer-
sity and the broader Ann Arbor
community. But for all involved,
performance poetry is a learning
experiencethat's inherentlytied not
just to readingthe written word, but
to listening to what's spoken.
COMPETITIVE SLAM TEAMS IN A2
* Ann Arbor Youth Slam Team: For children under
19 years of age. Coached by Wordworks member
Gal Leberzon through the Neutral Zone, the team
competes in slams tournament-style and attends the
annual Brave New Voices International Youth Poetry
Slam Festival, held in a different city every year.
0 University of Michigan Slam Team: For U'
students. The winners of every U-club slam face off
against each other at the Ann Arbor Citywide Grand
Slam Poetry Slam. The top five that emerge become
the team and go on to compete at the national level.
0 Krazy Kats Poetic Debauchery Poetry Slam:
For adults. They have a similar slam season to
U-club, and the top scorers from the season become
the Ann Arbor Slam Team, which attends the
National Poetry Slam every year in a different city.
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Every February, U-club hosts the "Penis Monolgues," a show featuring penis-themed vocal performance wor