Spoken Word Collective: Punching You in the Face with Poetry

“Dear Stranger

If you hear this and think it could be about you

Please don’t stop listening

I’m homeward bound and if I have found you

Then it must have been meant to be

Take each word that is more than silence

And place it inside parentheses

You’ll know what to do soon enough”

–Carrie Rudzinski


Chanting these words on the third floor of Dudley Lawrence, five sophomore students prepared for their big performance on Friday night. Bekkah Olsen, Annie Robertson, Kit Haggard, Alanna Duncan and Karin Renate are all part of the Spoken Word Collective, a group on campus that is devoted to creating a safe space for performers and poets to appreciate and share the art of the Spoken Word. Started about a year ago by former graduate student Kevin Devaney, the Spoken Word Collective has evolved into an intimate and vibrant part of Sarah Lawrence life. In addition to featuring up and coming poets from across the country, the group aims to blur the line between “academic poetry” and spoken word.

from left: Annie Robertson, Alanna Duncan, Bekkah Olsen, Kit Haggard, and Karin Renate

The movement in its present form originated from a bar game created in Chicago in the mid-80s. However, the concept of spoken word (which includes slam poetry) may go back a few millennia. “In my opinion, Homer was the first Spoken Word poet” says Kevin, half jokingly. But in present day urban culture, spoken word encompasses pretty much anything and everything that is “spoken.” An infuriatingly vague definition but that’s part of the beauty of the movement. Its inclusiveness and “up yours” attitude to all the stuffy old notions of poetry resulted in an artistic movement that was truly subversive. Modulated yelling is the preferred tactic of many poets and topics can range from bitingly political to hopelessly romantic.

The SLC version may not be as aggressive but it comes with its fair share of emotional punch. As Kevin puts it “You wanna hear voices that are challenging to you.” Almost weekly, poets convene at the Teahaus to perform and listen to everyone from established poets to their peers. While it might seem like a fairly standard performance, the impression I gathered was one of emotional intensity and vulnerability. “You can burst into tears if you need to” says Kit as she describes a typical evening with the collective.

In a college that is known for the study and deconstruction of writing techniques, the Spoken Word Collective seems to create that essential space for poets to share their voice without the fear of being evaluated or judged.  There appears to be a level of openness and comfort that’s rarely found in community events. A word of warning though, as one of the organizers put it “You won’t like Spoken Word if you’re hiding something”

The Spoken Word Collective is having its first event of the season TONIGHT at 7pm in Slonim House, featuring two National Poetry Slam Vets and plenty of student readers.  Bring a poem if you want to read!  Here is more information.



Article image taken by Preksha Kumar.

Featured image from Open Mic Australia.

Title courtesy of Bekkah Olsen

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