First OSlam! Open Mic Showcases Young Poetic Talent

Ruby Saha

A profoundly personal art form, effective slam poetry relies on the performer’s ability to draw stories from deep within themselves, requiring an incredible amount of resilience and courage. OSlam!, Oberlin’s newest slam poetry group, seeks to create a space where poetry can be accessible and shared in a safe and interactive environment, as it did at its Open Mic Night at the Cat in the Cream on Monday. Composed of first- and second-year students, the group performed to a large and enthusiastic crowd who remained engaged throughout the night, snapping their fingers along to particularly clever or powerful wordplay.

OSlam!’s first major event of the year alternated between performances by its members and talented musicians. The music provided a welcome break from the intensity of the slam performances. The evening began with College first-year Zachariah Claypole White, who emphasized the importance of stories — a running theme throughout the night, and for slam poetry in general — and engaged the audience in a call-and-response with his poem “Meaningless.” His plaintive, thoughtful style came as a welcome intro-duction, with lines like, “For what else is a story if not a lover?”

Every member of the group created a memorable and unique performance, whether through a delicately eerie blend of poetry and electric guitar by first-year Peter Asch and double-degree first-year Griffin Jennings, or the cleverly self-deprecating piece, “A Letter to an Idiot,” performed by purple-haired College first-year Sol Solomon. College first-year Joseph Farago’s “Youth Culture” offered a stirring anthem to being young, poign-antly anchored in the poet’s relationship to his mother.

But it was OSlam!’s female members who truly stole the show that night, capturing that distinct blend of raw, catch-your-breath emotion tempered by meticulous tonal control and exquisite turn of phrase that characterizes the best slam poetry. OSlam! Co-Chair and College sophomore Alison Kronstadt came out strong with “First Snow,” a conversation between the poet and her friend with boy troubles, and “Choose to Refuse,” a poem about the politics of women’s clothing. Kronstadt shifted from sharp wit to pointed criticism in the blink of an eye with lines that incited a chorus of finger-snapping and assenting mur-murs from the audience. Her final poem was a charming portrait of her father written for his birthday, overflowing with gorgeous lines like, “I’m trying to write ‘thank you’ on the walls of this house in the kind of Braille only you can read,” and ending with the message that “art is only good for something if you can make it for the people you love.”

College first-year Annika Hansteen Izora gave the standout performance of the night with a stunning combination of gospel singing, foot-stomping and beautifully controlled lyri-cal rhythms. Izora focused on the black experience, with lines referencing the injustice faced by thousands of black men and women and brooding over her place in their history: “I encompass the infinities of a thousand black skies.” She was captivating to the very last moment, with her final poem, “An Open Letter to Kanye West,” calling the rapper out on his diva-like behaviour (“stormed award shows worse than Katrina”) while high-lighting Yeezy’s inspiring work ethic and confidence (“failure crafts character and success builds ego”), ending the poem with “Sincerely, Miss East.”

OSlam! Co-Chair and College sophomore Hannah Rosenberg gave another terrific per-formance with a series of untitled pieces that focused on disparate themes — from her experiences growing up in Brooklyn to her sister getting tattooed by a neo-Nazi — pairing a devastatingly incisive, lyrical style with an unparalleled tonal command. The eve-ning ended brilliantly with College first-year Jenna Bellassai’s scathing letter to the College Board on the innumerable failings of the SAT, an experience most members of the audience knew all too well.

OSlam!’s mission to create a safe space for poetry meant that the spirit of competition that characterizes slam poetry was missing from Monday evening’s performances. Instead, it was replaced with a respectful and supportive environment that encouraged each of the poets to perform without hesitation or reservation. The first rule of OSlam!, after all, is “no disclaimers.”