By Chasity Hale
April 4-7, 2018 was the first time that many of the current members of Stanford’s Spoken Word Collective attended the College Unions Poetry Slam Invitational (CUPSI) at Temple University. As an all-rookie team, they made it to finals, and this year, on April 10-13, 2019, at the University of Houston, they made it to finals again — for the third time ever in Stanford’s history.
CUPSI is a four-day annual poetry competition in which teams from all over North America participate. Days one and two consist of preliminary bouts, where all of the teams compete against one another. Day three is when the competition is halved, and the remaining teams battle in semifinals. On the final day — day four — the competition is reduced to four teams, who all vie for first place. In addition to the preliminary rounds, semifinals and finals are workshops, open mics and social events.
This year’s competitors from Stanford — Edan Arnas (’19), Darnell Carson (’21), Emily Dial (’17), Melinda Hernandez (’21), Arpi Park (’22) and Angel Smith (’21) — only had time to attend one social event. For the rest of their time, whenever they were not performing, they were practicing. Most of the members, except for Park, were at last year’s competition. Their experiences from last year allowed them to mentor Park, who had never slammed at any competition before CUPSI.
Each day, the team performed four poems, which they practiced and workshopped as a group until they felt ready for the stage. They chose a mix of solo poems and group poems, but made sure that each member of team was enabled to perform their own solo piece. Last year, they had fewer group poems, but after last year’s competition — after interacting the audience and judges — they decided they wanted more. One of their group pieces involved all team members and was inspired by the “Bandersnatch” episode of the popular Netflix Original: Black Mirror. The poem, like the episode, was interactive. Audience members could yell out answers, deciding the trajectory of the piece. There were three different endings that the team would perform, depending on the audience’s answers.
When asked about how they chose their poems for the competition, Hernandez responded, “The thing about a slam is, it’s kind of like a card game. It’s kind of like a gamble, where you go in, and you have this set of 16 poems, and you want to perform them all, but, like, you have to play your cards right in a way where you can get to the last round to perform that last set of poems.” When asked what it’s like to perform, Smith said, “We really think of stage space as sacred space, because it’s our guaranteed three minutes time to just give our truth and give everything we have.” Hernandez echoed that statement in other words, saying, “[Performing] is everything.” And after spilling her truth, she loves when her works resonates with people, and when they let her know, like they do at CUPSI —through verbal confirmations, applauses and well wishes. For Stanford’s team, then, it’s about more than how they score: “The connections that are made are so much more important than the points,” said Carson.
Now that CUPSI is over, the Stanford Spoken Word Collective has closed out the 2018-19 academic year with their final quarterly slam poetry competition. Both Smith and Hernandez are making poetry and music. Smith, last year, published a book on Amazon, and Carson, this year, published a book of his own. In August, Smith plans to launch an artist’s collective.
Contact Chasity Hale at cah70352 ‘at’ stanford.edu.