Business administration senior Jared Weiner saw something he hadn’t seen before at last year’s The Anthem poetry competition.
Sitting in the front row, he watched slam poet George Watsky step off stage in the middle of his performance and pull a set of portable steps to the front of the audience. Watsky’s poem was dedicated to a crush he had in his past, and how a fear of stage-diving during a Sum 41 concert cost him a “kiss at the end of the night.”
So, staring down 700 students in Chumash Auditorium, he climbed up the steps and did something he never had a chance to do.
“He always wanted to stage-dive, so he just went ahead and did it,” said Weiner, who has been a member of The Anthem committee in each of his four years on campus. “We’ve had performers say some funny things, and maybe throw in some dance moves, but easily that was the craziest thing I’ve seen.”
While there may not be crowd surfing this year, The Anthem is gearing up for its sixth annual poetry slam set from 7 to 10 p.m. this Friday in Chumash Auditorium. Five poets will headline the competition, with one — Prentice Powell — participating as the master of ceremonies.
Most of the participants are new to The Anthem, but some have performed at Cal Poly before. Rudy Francisco, a 2009 National Underground Poetry Slam Champion from San Diego, came to Cal Poly for Another Type of Groove in April 2011, and Buddy Wakefield, the Individual World Poetry Slam Champion in 2004 and 2005, came to Cal Poly in September 2010 as part of the Nite Kite Revival tour.
Powell — who will be participating as a host, not a competitor — is a regular participant in Cal Poly’s slam poetry events, while Tatyana Brown, Josh Healey and Nash Quest are all coming to campus for the first time.
The poets will participate in three rounds of 2- to 4-minute segments. Each poem will be rated on a score of one to 10 by four judges, and the poet with the most points at the end of the night will be named the winner. And the poets will tackle a wide range of topics, including anything from love to information men to fatherhood. It’s a diverse group that will only make the competition better, English junior and Anthem committee member Cate Harkins said.
“It’s going to be great,” Harkins said. “Some of them will have experience behind them, knowing what the Cal Poly groove is really like and how stoked we get on slam poetry. Some of them are going to be experiencing it for the first time, so I am really looking forward to the diversity that they are going to bring.”
That diversity extends to the audience as well. The poetry is not just for liberal arts majors to enjoy, it’s poetry that all students and faculty can relate to, Harkins said.
“It’s something that ends up crossing major boundaries,” she said. “It’s not like we have 700 liberal arts majors in Chumash; it’s everybody. We get engineers, business majors, liberal arts majors and agriculture majors because the poets don’t just speak about poetry, it’s about living, relationships and just trying to get by in life.”
Those topics have drawn large audiences in years past. Four years ago, the event drew close to 1,000 students, Weiner said. A year later, it drew 900 students, and last year close to 700 students came out to the competition.
That turnout is what has given Cal Poly name recognition as one of the better venues in the slam poetry community, The Anthem committee president and software engineering junior Mark Lerner said.
“We surprisingly have a good reputation in the poetry community as one of the best campuses to come and perform at because the audiences are always high energy,” Lerner said. “Especially last year’s anthem, we had an amazing turnout for some really good poets. We’re hoping to have the same thing this year.”
Lerner said he couldn’t be more exited for the event this Friday. He and most committee members have waited for this day since The Anthem ended last year. Mostly, he’s excited for the honesty slam poetry brings, he said. There’s something that everyone can take away from it.
“There’s so much that you can show people and tell people in a poem that you can’t in normal conversation,” Lerner said. “It’s such an amazing event, and I think it’s one of the big things Cal Poly puts on that really makes this campus special. It’s something that everyone should see before they graduate, that’s for sure.”
Admission to The Anthem is free.