Nine poets slammed their way through a variety of verse Tuesday night, rhyming together every theme from political injustice and childhood to questions of identity and penis size.
In front of a packed Campbell Hall crowd, master of ceremonies DJ Reborn introduced the members of Russell Simmons’ Def Poetry Jam as “the voices of the next America.” Appearing at UCSB as a stop on their 51-city tour, the poets took turns “slamming” their recitations with animated speech and gestures designed to reflect the content of their poems. Presented by UCSB Arts & Lectures, the event was a touring version of the Broadway production “Def Poetry Jam.”
After the 90-minute event, several performers spoke outside the lecture hall about their motivations for becoming slam poets and touring the country with their messages of self-respect and tolerance. Several students talked about the rising popularity of slam poetry and its influence on young people.
“Slam Poetry is more in your face,” said Starr Kirkland, a freshman political science major and aspiring slam poet. “[It’s] like rap but without the music.”
Kirkland said slam poetry performances often occur as independent performances or as part of competitions. Generally, she said, the poetry addresses political and social themes.
Def Poetry Jam performer “Poetri” said he began writing poems at age 11 — on a day when his parents had grounded him — as an outlet for expression and means of entertainment.
Poetri said he joined Def Poetry Jam after Simmons saw him perform at his Los Angeles club, Da’ Poetry Lounge, in Greenway Court Theatre. Simmons, co-founder of Def Jam Records, started the touring version of Def Poetry Jam after the success of “Def Comedy Jam” on HBO and the subsequent success of the performance series on Broadway.
“Poetry starts conversation,” Poetri said. “It’s gettin’ people talkin’ about what’s goin’ on in America.”
Poetri said he was pleased other artists are becoming involved with the craft.
“We’re breeding new poets with each show,” he said
Another Def Poetry Jam performer, Staceyann Chin, said she began writing poetry after leaving her home country of Jamaica. She said she left because of the social stigma she encountered after coming out as a lesbian.
“I started writing poetry because it was a way of smashing my fists on the walls without breaking any fingers or walls,” said Chin.
She said her performance’s focus has evolved from the personal to the universal.
“Now, [my poetry] is more about humanity,” she said.
Daniela Schonberger, a sophomore College of Creative Studies literature major and another aspiring slam poet at UCSB, said she most enjoyed the readings that Chin performed during the show.
“I felt her presence,” Schonberger said. “It was so deep.”
Kirkland and Schonberger said they are continuing to look for opportunities to perform their own slam poetry. Kirkland said she will be in an upcoming performance of the Women’s Ensemble Theatre Troupe production of the “The Vagina Monologues.” Schonberger said she performed her original slam poetry at the MultiCultural Center’s Night Of Self-Expression this past fall. She also said she performed last Friday at the premiere party for a new UCSB student literary magazine, Composition, and plans to perform Jan. 25 at Da’ Poetry Lounge.
Schonberger said slam poetry is an important avenue of self-expression.
“Everybody has a voice,” she said. “Everyone has something to say. It’s about getting your word out and influencing someone with what you have. You make an impact on people’s lives that way.”