Grace Carney, Staff Writer
On October 22, at 8 p.m., SUNY Oneonta held its 122nd poetry slam. The Big O Poetry Slam was the final slam to qualify for the Grand Slam poetry finals, a national-level competition. The event was held in the Waterfront Room of Hunt Union, hosted by Matt Coonan and Jordan Mayers.
The guest speaker of the night was Adriana E. Ramirez, who was born in Mexico City in 1983. Ramirez is a nonfiction writer, storyteller and performing poet who currently resides in Pittsburgh and teaches for the English department at the University of Pittsburgh. Her writing has appeared in the Los Angeles Review of Books, Convolution, Apogee, HEArt and Nerve.com. She has recited poetry on hundreds of stages across the country. Ramirez performed several poems at SUNY Oneonta in front of dozens of students without the slightest bit of self-consciousness or hesitation.
Animated and passionate in the midst of reciting her material, Ramirez did a splendid job as the guest speaker of the final poetry slam of the season preceding the Grand Slam. Covering a vast array of topics, ranging from personal relationships, development of self-esteem during early adulthood, sexual assault, loss and betrayal, and finally, her inextinguishable, fiery ambition for living life to the fullest.
The “sacrificial” poet of the night , whose poem stands as a baseline to judge the rest of the poems throughout the night, was a student named Cass, who examined gender stereotypes and sexism in modern day society, noting how girls are taught to act feminine and passive, while boys are taught to act masculine, strong and fearless. Following her performance, SUNY Oneonta students shared their own works of poetry.
The first poet, Daniel, chanted a rhythmic verse he concocted about life and loss. Optimistic and lighthearted, he shared a spectrum of thoughts. The second poet, Holly, repeated the line, “How did this blood get on my hands?” which courageously foreshadowed the very daunting topic of suicide and self-harm. Next came Audrey, a cheerful and sunny-looking girl who shared an anecdote of driving in the front seat of her car with her boyfriend and suddenly experiencing an unforeseen panic attack, which led into a unraveling of other relatable teenage experiences with an almost satirical tone.
Up next was Marissa, who reminisced with great zeal about being caught up in a sticky, inescapable love triangle and giving up on her love interest who “chose weed over her.” Following her was Megan, who began with a smooth opening about beauty, body image and the media, then transitioned to a disheartening narrative about having experienced sexual assault since middle school. Next was Lesley who earnestly confessed having had a relationship with a guy who wanted nothing more than to use her and refused to commit. She said for her, having a warm body of companionship to lie beside was more important than the reality of actually being alone the following morning.
Next was the powerhouse of the show: Denis, a young man from Rwanda. He wrote and performed a poem from the perspective of his friend about growing up in an impoverished community, being beaten in elementary school, living HIV positive and watching a fellow classmate become broken down by the world, yet still having dreams of attending MIT and finding the cure for AIDS, with an unmatched vigor and intensity. Following him was Ripley, beginning and ending her poem with the line, “I wonder if the mail came today.” She shared her personal experiences battling anxiety and depression, the despairing inability to escape the two, unable to recall the last time she didn’t feel invisible, could tolerate silence or being alone. After her was Lydia who spoke about frightening childhood memories of her mother being abused by her alcoholic husband. Following her was Cesar, who explained feelings of inadequacy from racist prejudices and being maltreated in the workforce due to his socio-economic background, yet he also declaring that he has an unmoving sense of motivation which will never prevent him from working toward his goals and dreams. The final poet of the evening was Quinn, who vivaciously and sarcastically illustrated a parody about attending college parties and picking up possible love interests, which ended the event on a superbly comical note, leaving the audience chuckling.
The two winners of the Big O Poetry Slam were Megan and Denis, who delved into the heavy topics from physical and psychological abuse, to growing up in poverty-stricken Africa, yet refusing to work any less than anyone else, being honest and sharing vulnerability with a crowd of strangers and fiercely holding onto hope–just as Ramirez had encouraged when she described never letting a fire inside of herself be extinguished.