OSLAM Switches Focus with Love-Centric Slam


Photo by Kellianne Doyle, Staff photograper

College junior and OSLAM member Misaël Syldor presents a slam poem at the Cat in the Cream Saturday. OSLAM’s Valentine’s Day-themed performance focused on feminism and relationships.

Max Van Cooper

The night before Valentine’s Day, the Cat in the Cream filled with excited OSLAM fans. The large audience spilled onto the floor; friends huddled in from the cold with coffee and cookies. OSLAM is best known for its gripping political and emotional poetry, but the group’s Feb. 13 performance focused on love and positivity. In keeping with the romantic theme, the group also held a “Date a Poet” raffle where, for $1, audience members could win the chance to go on a friend date with their favorite poet. The hype was up, and the poets were energized.

The overall tone of the poetry read was less slam and more spoken word. It was lighter, sweeter and softer than previous slams, with each poet bringing their unique interpretation to the genre. College sophomore Justin Jiménez spoke of his childhood love; College firstyear Hanne Williams-Baron performed a love poem to cows, which touched the heart of every vegan; and College sophomore Deborah Johnson read the audience wise words from her younger self ’s Tumblr. Poets shared love poems dedicated to their unsuspecting girlfriends in the audience, revealed their fears about love and intimacy and wrote poems to their past selves and ex-lovers. Some poems had been written in anticipation of the evening and were sugary without being cliché, while others were more unconventional takes on the theme.

One poem that embodied this originality was “Body Language,” written and performed by College sophomore Maya Berkley. Berkley commanded the audience’s attention with her uninterrupted, piercing gaze. The poem itself is humorous, heartwrenching and — as with all good slam poetry — hit close to home. Berkley uses her previous relationship to talk about the power imbalances within some relationships. Her descriptions of body language were incredibly personal, but also very relatable. It’s the kind of poem one doesn’t even realize they’re snapping to; your heart just moves your fingers. When an entire room of people are simultaneously snapping, laughing or murmuring “mhm,” when the entire room shares one mutual and personal experience — it’s magic. It’s the reason slam poetry has power, and it’s the reason Berkley is a gifted poet. Judge for yourself; “Body Language” is on Button Poetry with more than 40,000 views and counting.

Another highlight of the evening was College sophomore Jane Werntz’s poem about learning to love their femme self. Werntz’s work exposes a lifetime of gender exploration, comparing gender to flowers. In poignant prose, Werntz validates both their non-binary and femme experiences and their complex identity. Their poem questions what femininity means and how to nurture those roots as someone who doesn’t identify as female.

Some of the other compelling poetry that evening conceptualized love more literally. College junior and CoPresident of OSLAM Annika Hansteen Izora had a message for the boyfriends not willing to perform oral on their girlfriends: “Kneel before what is holy.” The crowd roared before Izora even took the stage. The energy the audience brought was reciprocated, if not amplified, by Izora’s presence. In a rich, deep voice, she tossed words melodically, tantalizing the crowd with playful language that riffed on religion, sex and feminism. Her poetry was sharp but harmonious, each line smoothly delivered, each slam leaving the crowd howling. The Cat in the Cream filled with a frenzy of applause after she delivered the last line “… And you will drink ‘til kingdom come.”

OSLAM was once again a success, turning a Hallmark holiday into something sincere, thoughtful and, yes, full of love.