Poetry Slam features local poets
The ArtHaus Poetry Slam, kicked off the fourth year of a lively and creative poetry reading event on Sept. 28.
Jayne Cole / Chips
The slams, which began in 2008, have become popular among Luther students and faculty along with the Decorah community. They are now hosted four times a year. In a testament to the the event’s success, the slams were originally held at the ArtHaus and hosted 60 people. After quickly selling out the first two events, they moved to the Elks Club and continually averages 150 people per night.
“Along with classes, we knew we wanted to have public art events as well.” Co-Director of ArtHaus, Kristen Underwood said. “I went to a poetry slam in Ashville, N.C., and knew I wanted to do it here.”
However, this isn’t your typical slam. With emphasis on a supportive and welcoming atmosphere, ArtHaus structured the event into three sections so poets can perform where they see fit.
“There are moving moments,” Underwood said. “It takes a lot of courage to share something you have written.”
A featured artist is the first on stage, performing a twenty minute segment to warm up the audience. The second part, entitled “Original Voices,” is a non-competitive segment, followed by the good-willed “slam,” which gives poets a chance to compete. Complete with a homemade applause o’meter, the poets are scored based on the response from the audience, from “hm, interesting” to “uff da!”.
All the poetry performed is original and the event is inclusive of anyone willing to perform.
“Anyone in the community can come to the stage and offer a poem and the audience is utterly supportive,” Associate Professor of English and past featured artist Amy Weldon said.
Rob Carbonell, a Decorah citizen and past poetry slam winner, was the featured poet. Carbonell headlined the event with a twenty minute reading of his original poetry. The first-time featured poet performed a wide range of works that included clever stanzas about his role as a “House Husband,” to moving, personal poetry that captured the audience in an emotional silence.
“I was incredibly nervous until I got behind the microphone,” Carbonell said. “ I hope to keep doing poetry. It feels good.”
Fourteen poets, including several Luther students, followed Carbonell in the popular “Original Voices” segment. The poetry ranged from politically charged opinions, to clever metaphors about society to touching verses describing loved ones.
Coordinator of Diversity Recruitment, Keith Lesmeister, (‘01) was the evening’s guest, Master of Ceremonies. Lesmeister, who has performed in numerous slams himself, thinks the event makes Decorah unique.
“The best way is to put it into context with other literary events and just the sheer number of people that come.” Lesmeister said.
Many also believe it is a great way to bring the Luther students to experience Decorah off-campus.
“When you think about Luther, community is what people talk about,” Executive Producer of the Poetry Slam Mark Faldet (‘82) said. “From 8 years old to 80 years, all walks and ages come to support each other. It is cool to see the blending of the two communities. Art doesn‘t just reside in a room on campus.”
Professor of English Nancy Barry, who also performed at the event, encouraged her creative writing students to attend the slam.
“I want it to demystify poetry. Poetry is very real, very local and very down to earth,” Barry said. “There is great fun in it.”
English major Emilie Taylor (‘13), a first time attendee, left the event inspired to continue experimenting with poetry.
“I think poetry is brought to life when read aloud,” Taylor said. “ I think poetry slams are such a unique thing. People don’t know how cool poetry can be.”
Art Haus will host another slam on Nov. 16. Students interested in performing an original piece in either category should contact the ArtHaus at (563)-382-5440.
“People are surprised that something as rich as this happens in Decorah,” Faldet said. “It gives people a voice.”