Student newspaper serving Tulane University, Uptown New Orleans

Student Org Spotlight: Rhyme Verses Rhythm expands spoken word community on campus

November 30, 2017

Poetry: A platform in which “the personal becomes public and the private becomes public. Everything turns into something that’s political,” as co-captain of Rhyme Verses Rhythm Kayla Jackson sees it. For the students involved with Rhyme Verses Rhythm, this sums up the art of spoken word, a broad term for performance poetry.

Rhyme Verses Rhythm, Tulane’s traveling slam poetry team, aims to expand this powerful platform on campus and make involvement in the spoken word community more accessible for students.

Despite the vibrancy of New Orleans’ spoken word community, Tulane did not develop one of its own until two years ago, when senior Jae Lee enlisted the help of graduate student Kayla Jackson to found Rhyme Verses Rhythm. The group has spent its formative years recruiting members in poetry classes and hosting workshops which serve both to educate students on the art of spoken word and make it more approachable for those who have not previously performed their work.

“We … have a lot of people on Tulane’s campus who just write in general but don’t always see their writing as something they can share out loud,” Lee, the co-founder and co-captain of Rhyme Verses Rhythm, said. “So that’s another aspect of trying to foster a community of people who are comfortable sharing their work and knowing that their voices matter and that their work deserves to be heard.”

In a battle of rhyme versus reason, the reason behind the rhyme is just as important as the rhyme itself. Spoken word poetry often addresses issues of race, identity and politics, giving participants an outlet to express complex thoughts, feelings and experiences that might otherwise be difficult to articulate. Its performative nature also allows participants the chance to have their voices heard.

Last year, the group entered the College Unions Slam Poetry Invitational in Chicago. As a first-time CUSPI competitor and a relatively new organization, Rhyme Verses Rhythm faced tough competition but still managed to place 22 out of 72 teams, only narrowly missing the cut-off for the semi-finals. This year’s team, which consists of Lee and Jackson, as well as junior Maty Diawara, sophomore Shahamat Uddin and Loyola University New Orleans sophomore Amani Henry, was selected at Rhyme Verses Rhythm’s Poetry Slam on Nov. 17.

While the traveling team has already been determined, it is not too late for interested students to get involved with the group. Rhyme Verses Rhythm will continue to accept members, hold workshops for those wanting to hone their spoken word skills and present opportunities for students to compete in local poetry slams.

By participating in neighborhood events like slams and open mics, and working with local poets, the group’s members hope to become more involved in the New Orleans spoken word scene, which is known for its supportive nature.

“… It’s a community of people – most often, people whose voices, bodies or identities have been marginalized in some way – who come together and celebrate differences, who celebrate their culture, who celebrate surviving whatever situations and whatever obstacles they’ve survived or been through throughout their lives,” Jackson said.

Aligning Tulane’s spoken word scene with the larger one of New Orleans has been made easier thanks to the group’s connection with Team Slam New Orleans. Several of Team SNO’s members are current or former Tulane students, including Lee and Mwende “FreeQuency” Katwiwa. Akeem Olaj, a member of Team SNO, hosted Rhyme Verses Rhythm’s Poetry Slam and encourages spoken word novices to perform from the heart.

“Be yourself, write for yourself first,” Olaj said. “The more faith you have in your words, the better they will carry through.”

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