Oslam Open Mic Highlights Talent of New Poets

Each time a poet took to the stage and announced their name and pronouns followed by “I’m a first-year,” the audience erupted into a chorus of snapping and cheering. This was “Back 2 School Open Mic,” hosted by OSlam, Oberlin’s poetry collective. The event, which occurred last Friday at the Cat in the Cream, was the first opportunity this academic year for Oberlin students to hop on stage alongside OSlam’s three current members and share some of their work.

“I’ve worked a lot of open mics because I work at the Cat in the Cream, and it can be really hard,” College junior Amy Sahud said. “The energy can definitely dip, [but] I feel like we sustained it. I thought [the audience] was really supportive, and I was really happy about that.”

Sahud, who is entering her second year on OSlam’s team, relishes the space the club creates for sharing poetry outside of academic departments.

“I definitely feel, as someone that’s not involved with the Creative Writing department at all, [that] we’re definitely pretty distanced from … poetry [as] a very academic thing,” she said. “Especially the roots of slam being a Black art form and drawing from spoken word — this is not something that’s us reading Walt Whitman and some dusty old white men. It’s very happily detached from that. And that definitely invites people who are intimidated by the Creative Writing department or just feel like ‘I’m not really a writer’ — people say that all the time, and … that’s not true!”

It’s important to note that the OSlam club and team are two distinct groups. While participating on the team requires an audition process and involvement in poetry competitions, the OSlam club is a writing and sharing space that is open to all students, regardless of experience level.

Although the OSlam club was not particularly active last year, this year the members of the club plan to revive that group. Additionally, OSlam will be facilitating a Brown Resistance Writing Narratives club, centered around writing sessions specifically for Brown and Black students.

“Making sure that we have spaces for slam that aren’t competitive … is really important,” said College senior and OSlam team member Hanne Williams-Baron.

College junior and fellow teammate Jalen Woods agreed. “I think [we’re] ultimately trying to give people a space to express themselves,” he said.

Historically, OSlam events featuring both performances and a workshop element get a decent turnout. Friday’s event, which featured only performance, showed a particularly remarkable first-year presence both in the audience and on the stage.

“We’re going to have three returning members this year [on the competitive team] and a lot of first-years,” Williams-Baron said.

While seemingly a bit daunting, the returning members of OSlam see this year as an opportunity to revitalize the group with some new voices and fresh perspectives. Friday’s perspectives were fresh indeed, with poems focusing on subjects ranging from lamentation on young love, to a playful exploration of friendships with God and Satan, to analysis of the silencing forces of street harassment, to interrogation of violence against the Black community.

For College sophomore Olivia Guerriero, the open mic represented their first foray into an art form they’ve mostly interacted with in a classroom.

“It was the first time I had read a poem outside of a workshop setting, so it was very nerve-wracking,” they said. “It was great to be in that celebratory atmosphere, rather than an atmosphere of critique.”

Guerriero also acknowledges the importance of avoiding taking up space that is not theirs to take, given slam’s origins.

“I feel more comfortable and more justified taking up space in classes,” they said. “But it was nice to feel like I was participating in this community rather than just being an audience member or rather than inserting myself into it. … It felt very communal and very supportive.”

There are plans to bring Oberlin alumni and OSlam founders Alison Kronstadt, OC ’16, and Annika Hansteen-Izora, OC ’17, back to campus to perform leaving much in store for the club’s fifth year.

“They’re two incredible people who birthed OSlam, and we’re really excited to have some intergenerational knowledge-sharing,” Williams-Baron said.

Mostly, the team members want students to be excited about OSlam’s work. Friday’s event was an opportunity for community members to turn out, and for poets and performers to see the enthusiasm with which their artistic contributions were met.

“I’m really excited for all of the first-year poets of color who are coming into this community and being welcomed in the way that they are. I think it’s really amazing,” Guerriero said.

Sign-ups to audition for OSlam as well as additional information about the group are available through their Facebook page. Auditions will be held tonight and Sunday in Wilder 115.