The Grand Slam showcases some of UConn’s best poets

 Students are performing their own creative poem on Grand Slam at Monday night, student union theatre. There were ten ten participants to compete by elimination system. (Congyang An/The Daily Campus)

Students are performing their own creative poem on Grand Slam at Monday night, student union theatre. There were ten ten participants to compete by elimination system. (Congyang An/The Daily Campus)

Poetic Release took to the stage at the Student Union Theatre on Dec. 3 with their annual Grand Slam. The competitors were all poets who participated in previous slams and qualified to compete in the Grand Slam.

Contestants competed with their own poetry to secure a spot at the College University Poetry Slam Invitational (CUPSI). Of the 10 poets, only five would be sent to Houston, Texas in April 2019 to compete on a national level at CUPSI.

The host of the slam, ninth-semester WGSS and human rights major Alleyha Dannett, introduced herself and the rules of the slam. Each poet would perform one piece per round and at the end of every round the scores would be tallied by the judges and two poets would be eliminated from the next round. The president of Poetic Release, Sadejah Blake, was the “sacrificial poet” which meant that she would be performing a piece of her own to set the mood for the ensuing performances.

Each poet gave their all with every single performance and that clearly resonated with the audience. Some of the topics covered were sex, identity and gender. Members of the audience were heard snapping, a less intrusive form of affirmation than clapping, during every single poem read throughout the night. The most interesting thing about the performances was “the nuance and the commonality and how people are able to share their vulnerabilities,” Dannett said.

After every round, there was a brief 10 minute intermission while the judges tallied up the scores to determine who would be eliminated from the next round. Dannett emphasized that whether or not a poet was eliminated, they had all proven themselves to be amazing writers for standing up on stage and performing.

Right when the anticipation was high and the audience was waiting for the winners to be announced, a tie-breaker was declared. The two poets, Aner Bajraktarevic and Amani Boland, played rock-paper-scissors to determine who would perform first.

Once both the performers shared their pieces, a brief intermission followed to allow the judges one last score count before finally announced the winners of this year’s Grand Slam. The suspense was high and the winners were finally announced. The winners, in no particular order, were Marcus Holmes, Elliot Hopwood, Kimora Chambers, Richelle Gray and Aner Bajraktarevic.

Holmes, a seventh-semester English major, began writing poetry because of his ninth grade language arts teacher who told him to try writing slam poetry after having written raps.

“I’ve been waiting for this,” Holmes said. “I’ve always had the talent and I’ve been (cheated) on events that could have take me to other places when I was younger but it feels amazing. It hasn’t even hit me yet.”

A roar of applause erupted in the room following the announcement of winners and both performers and audience alike were found crying and congratulating each other.

Gray, a fifth-semester architecture major, used poetry as an outlet but didn’t begin performing her poetry until last year when she had joined Poetic Release.

“I’m really dumbfounded,” Gray said. “My poetry is just really personal to me and it’s inspirational and uplifting to see other people correlate to it especially since I was never really open about it. So having this be my first experience showcasing it...I’m so thankful.”

Bajraktarevic, a fifth-semester communications major, was introduced to poetry in an eighth grade creative writing class where he realized he enjoyed it and was encouraged to continue writing by the people he shared his poetry with.

“I remember growing up and watching the videos of CUPSI and those performances and I always thought, ‘That is so amazing, I really feel like I could do that.’” Bajraktarevic said. “Now I get to go to this national competition and put myself on stage to compete against the broadest range of talent and poets in college. I’m just so happy and so grateful. I’m really excited to win.”


Brandon Barzola is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at brandon.barzola@uconn.edu.