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The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

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Annual poetry festival draws more poets than ever

Grand+Slam+Poetry+Event
Photo by Photo by: Noah Simpson
Grand Slam Poetry Event

Poetry and performance will be united this weekend in the sixth annual Texas Grand Slam Poetry Festival (TGS) where competitors from around the country share their art and contend for a $1,200 grand prize.
Slam poetry is spoken word poetry with performance elements. Performers either speak or read original pieces they wrote for an audience and judges.
“Pepsi used to do something called the Pepsi Refresh Project, which basically what it did was instead of giving money for superbowl ads, it would give that money to nonprofits,” Amir Safi a founding member of TGS said. “We told Pepsi if we won the $5,000 we applied for, we would start a contest called Texas Grand Slam Poetry Contest. We ended up winning, and this will be the sixth year of TGS.”
This year the competition will feature 54 artists and for the first time will include Last Chance Slam, a preliminary event in which the winner of this first slam will be awarded all registration and hotel expenses paid. The artists competing in the Last Chance Slam are selected from the waiting list of those who didn’t make it in the registration window for this year’s contest.
Jordan Cooley, English senior, president of Mic Check and director of Texas Grand Slam, said the window for registration for this year’s TGS closed in record-breaking time.
“We opened it on July 15 and closed it within 47 hours,” Cooley said. “It was amazing. That was the fastest TGS has ever closed poet registration. It normally takes two months.”
Safi said this year was exceptional in the number of poets who registered for the event.
“Every year it gets bigger and brings in more people,” Safi said. “This is probably one of the best lineups we’ve ever had as far as quality of poets. The first year we did texas grand slam, I drove to different cities and recruited different poets. This year, they closed online registration in 47 hours — it’s crazy.”
The growth of the contest has resulted in poets traveling to Bryan-College Station from different parts of the country to attend and compete.
“We’re not just statewide, we’re national,” Cooley said. “It’s called Texas Grand Slam because we have huge Texas pride, but we’re having poets from Oregon and Arizona and Louisiana and everywhere coming down. We’re lucky enough to have the largest national annually held poetry slam in Texas.”
Mic Check is a non-profit organization that will use money raised from ticket sales to the Final Slam to fund various events — from youth outreach to a weekly open-mic night.
“A lot of the proceeds go to funding our own programs, so we do workshops at A&M Consolidated High School and College Station High School,” Cooley said. “We do Juvenile Justice Center workshops with at-risk youth every Saturday. It’s a program called Art for Life. We also put on a youth slam in the summer so kids ages 13-19 can come compete at the national level. They also fund our open mic, because that’s a great way to bring art into the community.”
Christian Ott, management information systems junior and member of Mic Check, is competing in Texas Grand Slam and said he got involved with Mic Check last year.
“I first went to TGS my freshman year, and that was my first exposure to slam poetry and the spoken word,” Ott said. “I didn’t start going to Mic Check until the following spring and that’s when I started writing and performing. Last year was the first time I started really getting involved.”
Ott said the most important part of slam poetry to him is the chance to listen to other people.
“I think it’s really important that we give people a chance to tell their story and to listen to other people,” Ott said, “I think a lot of the problems that come in our society are when we don’t hear what other people are having to say. It’s an amazing way to show someone you love them by just listening to them. That’s what really interested me, hearing people that are so honest.”
Alex Dang is a poet traveling from Portland, Oregon to compete in Texas Grand Slam. Dang said his poetry is very personal to him and he learns more about himself through sharing it.
“I think it’s an urge for myself to be better for all the people in my life,” Dang said. “For my poetry, a lot of it is personal, it’s confessional — mostly it’s therapy for myself about how I interact with the world and how the world interacts with me. I do it in order to find out about myself and how to be a better person.”
Dang said he was first exposed to slam poetry in high school through an open-mic similar to the ones hosted by Mic Check.
“In high school, I was a big music kid,” Dang said. “I got really into hip hop and I tried to hit all the open mics to practice. When I was 17, I went to an open mic that happened to be a poetry slam. I stayed to watch the other poets and I just fell in love. Five years later, here I am.”
Madeline Mae Parker, Class of 2014 and former president of Mic Check, is coming to College Station to compete in Texas Grand Slam for the second time this year. Parker said she is excited to be returning to College Station and to Texas Grand Slam.
“For me, it’s home away from home,” Parker said. “In addition to that, just in general for Texas Grand Slam, I feel like TGS is a different type of poetry family in the sense of, both poets and audience members alike feel like they’re part of something bigger than just the competition. I’ve heard poets who have gotten ot compete all over the country if not broader than that say how this is a different feeling and vibe to TGS that makes them feel welcomed and home and sage, and that permeates even the audience experience.”
Parker said the motivation for her poetry is to tell a true story and provide encouragement.
“I want to write a story that is true in the sense that I know my story better than anyone else can,” Parker said. “For me, I want to write a story or a truth that needs to be heard. Something I often say in  workshops is you have a voice and your voice is important and only you can share your story in your voice. You don’t know who else out there needs to hear your story or your experience to give them encouragement or a reason to keep on going for just one more day.”

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