Women’s History Month Poetry Slam: When Poems Speak Louder than Words

Marielle Genovesi, Staff Writer

Lady Gaga tweets a complement to Caroline Rothstein in response to her poem entitled “Fat,” welcoming her as an active figure fighting against the societal constructions of body image.
Lady Gaga tweets a complement to Caroline Rothstein in response to her poem entitled “Fat,” welcoming her as an active figure fighting against the societal constructions of body image.

“Write something in honor of a woman who inspires you,” was written at the top of an initially blank sheet of paper passed around the audience of the 10th Annual National Women’s History Month Poetry Slam last Wednesday. Many poetry slams occur throughout the year on campus, but this slam was special as it was hosted by Big O’ Slam female poets, Chelsea Defino and Maryanne Rojas. With the intention to honor women from this campus they placed the artwork of female students around the walls, exposing the talent withheld by these amazing woman artists. The slam was open to both male and female poets and the only guideline was that the poems slammed were to carry themes that empower women.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with poetry slams, anyone is allowed to stand before the audience and read or recite original poetry. They are scored by unbiased judges who are often pulled from the audience. Scores are given on a numeric scale that ranges from one to 100; all these scores are then summed up for a final score.
But the focus that night was not on the competition, but rather the words shared by each poet, as they expressed their experiences as women or about women who have touched their lives. Before the handful of poets who were to be competing that night, stepped on stage, faculty resident, Unoma Azuah of Lane University in Jackson, Tennessee who shared biographical poems that spoke of her life experiences. Following her performance, the featured poet, Caroline Rothstein took to the stage, being vibrant, confident and energetic the moment she stepped before the enthusiastic crowd.

Rothstein is a longtime advocate for eating disorder recovery and the promotion of positive body image worldwide. She specializes in spoken word poetry, theater, creative nonfiction, journalism and performance art. In 2008 she started “Body Empowerment,” a series on YouTube that encourages discussion about eating disorders, sharing her experience as a young woman who recovered from a decade long eating disorder.

Through the poetry she shared that evening, much was learned of her struggles not only as a woman, but as a human being. When she began to perform, almost instantly heads began to nod and audience members hummed in agreement, snapping their fingers high in the air (one snaps instead of clapping at poetry slams). Rothstein created a kind of magic; an emotional connection with those in the room with her poetry practically bursting from inside her. She brought laughter to the room, as well as tears and stories that not only were relatable, but frightening and true. In fact, after her first poem she stopped and asked lightheartedly, “Is it okay if we go deep? We’re just going to go deep and dark.”

The poets that followed Rothstein’s performance did not pale in comparison. Each performer shared poetry about the influences women have had in their lives. One poet, who announced herself as a newcomer to slam poetry, spoke ardently about the love and appreciation she has for her mother, that which she didn’t have as a young girl. A male poet followed who spoke of his wishes for his daughter, to love herself for who she is, instead of how she is told she should be. The winning poet, Matt Coonan, spoke about being marked and restricted by stereotypes and his resentment of this. The second place winner, Michael Bonnani, gave an energetic and enthusiastic performance of a poem contrasting the trials of love with outer space.

Poetry is made to connect with its listener or reader and slam poetry excites raw emotion. As an audience member you are practically immersed in the sounds of language and their meaning. All the poets who took to the stage honored women with their words and the truths they told, as Rothstein said, they “dug deep.”
For those of you who are interested in slam poetry you can get involved with SUNY Oneonta’s Big O’ Poetry Slam Team. Their meetings are held on Wednesdays from 5:00 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. in The Catskill room of Hunt Union.

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