Rhyme Verses Rhythm aims to engage attendees, recruit members at poetry slam


Courtesy of Rhyme Versus Rhythm

Rhyme Versus Rhythm performs at a competition, last April. The team competes with other universities for poetic glory.

It’s an autumn evening, early in the fall semester. The year is 2014. A young man naively climbs up onstage at a poetry slam in a last-ditch effort to impress the articulate, well-educated woman of his dreams. His delivery, though shaky at first, transitions into a passionate spoken word piece tackling religion, the brevity of life and America’s sweetheart, Julia Roberts, punctuated by uproarious applause.

The man? Jonah Hill. The campus? None other than Tulane University, under the guise of “MC State.”

This iconic scene from “22 Jump Street” was, for many, their first foray into slam poetry, a form of verbal poetry performance that has grown increasingly popular in recent years, due in part to the number of performances that have gone viral on social media.

To accommodate this growing interest and make the world of spoken word more accessible to students, Rhyme Verses Rhythm, Tulane’s official slam poetry team, is putting on a Poetry Slam and Open Mic. The event will take place at 7 p.m. on Friday in the Qatar Ballroom of the Lavin-Bernick Center for University Life.

In addition to fostering campus-wide interest in spoken word, the main aim of the event is to determine the members of Tulane’s 2018 traveling slam poetry team. The five highest-scoring poets will be invited to join the team, which offers the opportunity to compete nationally at the annual College Unions Poetry Slam Invitational. Those who do not make the cut, or discover a passion for poetry at the event, are welcome to join Rhyme Verses Rhythm on a rolling basis as non-competing members.

“We’ll always be accepting anybody who’s interested in poetry and wants to come and have their poetry heard, or read, or worked on,” Jae Lee, co-captain and co-founder of Rhyme Verses Rhythm, said.

For those whose slam poetry knowledge starts and ends with Jonah Hill shouting, “Cynthia,” attending the Open Mic is still encouraged. First-time attendees should expect to engage and interact with each poet as they take the stage.

“What makes it a little different from just a poetry reading is the audience is expected to kind of yell and cheer and interact with the performer while they’re performing, to either encourage them and/or discourage them from whatever it is they’re doing,” Lee said.

The audience doesn’t only act as a sounding board for each performer. They also make up the judging panel. Five attendees will be chosen at random to score the competitors, allowing even slam poetry novices the chance to get fully involved.

That level of interaction may seem daunting to some, but the audience will be in the capable hands of host Akeem Olaj, whose three national poetry championship titles and membership in Team Slam New Orleans make him more than qualified to guide audience engagement.

The only things required to compete are two original poems, each under three minutes long, a knack for compelling storytelling and an email to Rhyme Verses Rhythm to be added to the list.

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