GVSU poetry students prepare for Chicago competition

Riley Collins

Though Grand Valley State University has many writing clubs dedicated specifically to poetry or dealing closely with the art, none have been established with a competitive goal in mind. The new GVSU slam poetry team, however, is seeking to take student talent to a national level at the College Union Poetry Slam Invitational (CUPSI) in Chicago in April.

Kelsey May Fraser, recent GVSU graduate and coach of the team, said it’s the slam event that college students attend to get recognized.

“We have a really talented community of poets in West Michigan,” she said. “And we feel that we could definitely compete on a national caliber.”

To get there, however, Fraser needs to develop a team of poets either familiar with slam poetry and spoken word or willing to try it out. She will be hosting three events that double as informal auditions, the first of which takes place Wednesday, Nov. 16.

“It’s a really awesome poetry community event for people to come and show off their work,” said Annie Livingston, GVSU student and co-founder of the poetry team.

For many who aren’t familiar with slam poetry, there’s a common misconception which describes it and spoken word as inherently angry and rant-like. For Livingston, however, it’s about making poetry that’s true and relevant.

“I really try to write true poems. (If) it’s sad, it’s sad. I try to write for the future I want to exist,” she said. “Angry poems are OK, just not required.”

Though angry poems can pack punch, they’re not required to win a competition. Furthermore, for Livingston and Fraser, competition is only half of the appeal of GVSU’s poetry team.

“It’s called a competition, but that’s not really the spirit we’re going for,” Livingston said.

The spirit she speaks of is more about creation among kindred spirits and a fun opportunity for poets to go to Chicago to take part in a large mixing of the best student work in the U.S.

For students like GVSU writing major Olivia Mocko, the trip in April and the opportunity to expand her writing skill is reason enough to get involved with the team.

“I’ve always been really interested in poetry,” she said. “I’ve been published before but haven’t been a part of a slam poetry group. (I’m) kind of going in blind, but I’m excited to learn.”

Like Mocko, many students often come into the world of slam poetry blind and maybe unsure. Livingston said no prior experience is necessary and that one of the goals of the team will be to improve on skills poets already possess, without the pressure usually expected in a competitive setting.

“It’s OK if your poem isn’t memorized,” Livingston said. “It makes sense if you haven’t been prepping for a poetry slam your whole life.”

As of now, the goal is for the three audition competitions to give Fraser and Livingston an idea of what the team traveling to Chicago will look like. Participation is reserved for full-time students enrolled in both semesters of the regular academic year, though both undergraduates and graduate students are welcome to compete.

Fraser is excited for what’s to come from her team, whoever that might include.

“I’m very excited to hear GV students express themselves and grow through spoken word and performance poetry,” she said.