By Paris Gravley
Oberlin, in all its glory, is only a couple degrees away from being the quintessential snow-globe: quaint, beautiful, and heavily contained. It’s easy to forget that this coniferous oasis is only a mirage—a water hole in a desert called America. Hard to believe an entire revolution is taking place a mere nine-hour car ride from Rathskellar’s free coffee.
For two hours on Wednesday night, performance poet Jared Paul and four of Oberlin’s own slam poets lifted the concave glass for a small audience in Wilder Room 101.
Short and gruffy, Paul looked like an Anarchist leprechaun from a motorcycle gang. His front teeth make the British look like orthodontia heaven. It’s clear he was a little nervous—funny, given that he is in front of thirty students, all of who probably idolize his natural badass-ness—but his explanation made up for more than his jitters. He’s been working hard on Occupy Providence, and his head is still transitioning from battling Juggalos and protesting to our little snow globe of a home. “I’ve been yelling an awful lot,” Paul explains. “But it feels good.”
He began his first poem with a technique they use at the newly dubbed “People’s Park” in Providence, where 1,200 strong are peacefully protesting. It’s called “people’s mike.” After saying “mike-on,” the room has to repeat whatever Paul says. Extrapolate this to a thousand plus crowd, echoing a message backwards so everyone can hear, and there’s a pretty powerful poem in it of itself. But back to Paul.
“…it has nothing to do with being misguided…”
Us students repeat it back to him, “it has nothing to do with being misguided.”
Same deal, “economic injustice…”
“…mass economic injustice…it’s not that hard.”
He concluded this makeshift game of Simon Says with, “mike off,” and the meat of his first poem came slamming down within Wilder’s walls.
For slam poets to be truly successful, they must accomplish three things, a holy trinity of sorts: first, to inspire some strong emotion, whether this is happiness, sadness, etc.; second, to inspire an urgency to make a difference, like to protest the 1% or to occupy Cleveland; and third, the sneaky one, to make the audience want to be in love. It’s a crazy trifecta, eclectic definitely, but once this equilibrium is reached, one can realize slam poetry nirvana.
Andrea Gibson, who performed last Saturday, is a god of slam by this definition. She hit the big three so squarely that it was hard to tell where her words ended and ignited blood began.
Paul, on the other hand, tackled only the first two. As his stories unfolded, his inspiration tactics reflected good writing: show, don’t tell. I wanted to jump off my seat and get arrested for “felony rioting” at an Atmosphere and Mos Def concert, too. I wanted to sing “Hey Jude” and Johnny Cash and “The National Anthem” with a bus full of illegally arrested protesters, too. He didn’t have to urge the audience to do the same; his stories stirred an adventurous envy that was more than enough. But the last peg, love, was certainly unrequited.
Enter slam poets Nate Krasner ‘13, Taylor Johnson ‘14, Zoe Gould ‘14, and Veronica Burnham ‘14. For the first round, three out of the four poems were about love. “Wasp,” by Burnham, was the only poem not about love, and the only one not to make it to the next round.
Gould’s first poem, which received the second highest score behind Johnson’s, described the difficulties of a long-distance relationship that is nonetheless beautiful. “I want to be more than one, but I want to be less than two,” Gould said. “I want to fill you up and pour you over my head.” That love quota? Starting to feel a little more full.
In between the first and final round (the slam was cut short due to a fittingly democratic vote by the audience), Paul performed two more poems.
Given the number of bicyclists seen around campus, it’s a shame more students weren’t in attendance for his third poem. A hilarious recount of his loogied revenge on a particularly obnoxious cab driver, Paul spat, literally, about the lack of poems dedicated to the injustice of “share the road.” “Most people leave after that,” Paul said. “Seeing that it is an entire poem about spitting.”
Switch back to the slam. Johnson, Gould, and Krasner are left; again, all three poems about love. Johnson, who won both rounds and the overall slam, wrote to Lauryn Hill. “I fell in love with you in the backseat of my mother’s red Toyota,” Johnson said. “I was seven years old.” She concluded, and the slam portion is over.
Paul stood before us again, took off his denim jacket with a patch over the left breast and said, “It’s okay not to drink,” and began his final slam poem. He broke open the glass dome completely—a slam dunk, a grandslam, whatever you want to call it—if only for a couple minutes or so. But certainly long enough for a breath of fresh air.