Poets Rudy Francisco, Doc Luben, Terisa Siagatonu, Danez Smith and Janae Johnson will bring diversity and awareness to Cal Poly May 15 in the form of poetry at the Anthem Poetry Slam. Topics covered will include racism, gender, sexuality, mental health and body image. The show will be the 11th anniversary of the Anthem Poetry Slam.
English senior Megan Healy said a group of students interested in slam poetry started Anthem after realizing the university lacked a space for the art form. She’s been involved since her freshman year and said slam poetry is a high-energy environment.
“There’s audience involvement, so you get to yell in response to the poem,” Healy said. “It’s a roller coaster of emotions.”
English senior Malama Wilson said many first-time attendees think slam is a pretentious, quiet event.
“People have this idea of what a poetry slam is, that it’s this quiet event and you sit there and you snap,” Wilson said. “No, that’s not what this is.”
Instead, the lines between audience and performers blur. Observers can yell at poignant moments and empathize with the stories.
“[Slam] is a very specific kind of poetry that is fast and emotional and has, you know, ups and downs,” Healy said. “Poetry is meant to be read aloud in any case, but slam is meant to be performed. It’s super heart-on-your-sleeve, sometimes there’s [cursing] and mostly it’s about social justice issues and topics and gender, race, sexuality and health, all things that a lot of people don’t talk about. That’s why I love it, it’s bringing to Cal Poly voices that aren’t always heard, narratives that aren’t always told.”
Anthem Poetry Slam is different from most on-campus open mic events, such as Another Type of Groove. Anthem organizers are flying in famous poets to perform with host Simply Kat, the winner of three Anthem slams.
Anthem’s uniqueness isn’t limited to its impressive lineup. Poetry slams are traditionally highly competitive with time limits, judges to score the performances and prize money.
This year, judges are the winners of Cal Poly’s Student Slams. The panel will select a winner to perform a third encore poem and invite back to next year’s Anthem. However, instead of paying just the winner, Anthem will pay each poet who participates in the slam.
Doc Luben, the winner of last year’s Anthem competition, won the crowd with his poem about his struggle with mental health.
“That’s something that’s not talked about at Cal Poly, [San Luis Obispo is] the happiest city in America. Thanks Oprah,” Healy said.
When Wilson attended her first slam, she was taken aback by the bravery and vulnerability of those who performed their poetry.
“Everybody’s thinking it, you know, everybody’s felt that way,” she said. “So it’s cool to hear it artistically put.”
As Healy described it, slam is a way to express voices an audience can identify with so they feel like their own stories are told and voices heard.
Healy was particularly excited that Anthem would feature returning Samoan poet Terisa Siagatonu, whose poems about healing and courage were featured on CNN and NBC. She’s also excited to listen to rising poet Janae Johnson, who speaks about her experiences as a queer black woman.
“Voices [like theirs] are not common at Cal Poly,” she said.
Healy said Anthem will be a space for touchy subjects to be talked about in a safe environment. In light of recent controversial speakers visiting Cal Poly, Healy said talking about these topics in a way that isn’t combative is the goal.
“There’s been a lot of talk about diversity at Cal Poly,” said Healy. “I think this is the calmest but funnest way to bring it to campus from outside.”
Admission is free and the event will be held in Chumash Auditorium from 7 to 9 p.m. Doors open at 6:40 p.m.