A Conversation With OSLAM Grand Slam Winner
BEN RICHMAN // DECEMBER 14, 2018
The OSLAM Grand Slam, held November 30th, was one of OSLAM’S biggest events this semester, bringing 800 attendees, who filled Finney Chapel to hear OSLAM poets perform original work and compete for a spot to perform at the College Unions Poetry Slam Invitational (CUPSI). The event, hosted by Nani Borges, also had a special performance from And What!? and Daniella Hope. The proceeds from ticket sales went to Black Mama's Bail Out, a campaign organized by the National Bail Out Fund to bail out black moms who would otherwise be separated from their family on Mother’s Day. The amazing OSLAM performers included Alejandro Barbosa, Amy Sahud, Banu Newell, Emmaleth Ryan, Hanne Williams-Baron, Jalen Woods, Kai Joy, Marlee Neugass, Nassirah Fair, Olivia Huntly, Sarah Ridly, and Zoe Luh, all of whom performed powerful, thoughtful and important poems that shed light on topics ranging from police brutality to sexual assault,to family, and food. The Grape talked to Thandiwe Augustin-Glave (first year, She/Her/Hers), one of the winners of the Grand Slam, who will be competing at CUPSI in the spring.
PHOTO BY SAM BLIEDEN
What reflections do you have looking back on the Grand Slam? Are there any highlights that stuck out to you?
I really love being a member of OSLAM. It was just amazing to hear people’s poems evolve. I know my friend Banu’s poem went from him being like ‘I just wrote this poem how does it sound?’ to him performing it, and then adding physical life to it. That was profound on so many levels. To see the process of that evolving overtime was so amazing. It's so amazing to watch people grow their pieces, and watch their pieces bloom into these amazing performances. Hearing Hanne’s piece and hearing how it changed was also so amazing. I didn't think it could get better and it just got better every time.
What was it like performing in Finney for such a large crowd?
Finney Chapel is a big deal for OSLAM. We’ve never had a venue that large, and the fact that we were able to get 800 people there out of a 1200 seat house was something we saw as a dream and to see that dream come true was just amazing. To see all the work that Hanne put into it and how much she believed in it really motivated all of us to put our all into it. It's interesting because when you’re sharing something you create, something that is from you, you just want to invite the audience into the poem and be invited in by them. It's a very reciprocal experience. And if I can share my poem in front of 5 strangers I could share my poem in front of 500 strangers.
What would you like Oberlin to know about OSLAM?
It takes a lot to write something and share it with people. It may look easy but a lot goes into that process and there is a lot of questioning ‘Is this good enough?’ and telling yourself ‘This is good enough!’ I think poetry can help a lot of people work through what they’re going through. I see my OSLAM members going on stage and bearing their hearts out and having these deep confessional type pieces where they analyze aspects of their life that they weren’t always able to in the moment that it was happening to them, and that takes a lot. Especially as a black artist on a very white campus it can be difficult. Before you come up to me afterwards, and are like, ‘Oh that was so amazing’ make sure you understand the position you're coming from. Be more conscious and try to be respectful. We’re so glad that it touched you, but understand that we’re people and this is really personal stuff.
What are your thoughts on OSLAM as a community?
We definitely support each other in a lot of ways as artists, and part of that is recognizing that we are more than artists, and before we are artists we are people. Take care of yourself as a person. Don't sacrifice yourself for your art. Don't put saying what you think you need to say in front of processing and taking care of yourself and not everything that you write needs to be shared. Sometimes you need to sit on it and reflect, which OSLAM has helped me with a lot.
Is there anything that you want audience members to take away from the performance?
I think that it is always important for people to recognize their privileges, and you never stop growing, and you never stop learning. We have to constantly unlearn what we’ve been conditioned to accept in ourselves. Also, constantly question the way you are interacting with people in your lives and ask how you can be better. At the same time, I think it's important to understand that other people always have room to grow. We shouldn't be too quick to dismiss people for being imperfect, but still call people out when they are being disrespectful and ignoring people’s whole-ass identities. You have to understand how you are affecting people’s everyday lives and contributing to larger systems. It's important to bring attention to those things, and that's part of the power of poetry. I don't remember who said it but there is a quote that says “The poet's job is to warn” which is raw as fuck. We place ourselves in a position to educate just by sharing our experiences and that can be reflected in everyone's’ everyday encounters. You can take what you’ve heard and actually talk about it. Like what am I doing to take away from other people’s humanity? Poetry often comes from a place of pain and if you feel uncomfortable listening to someone talk about their pain because you have been a contributor of that then you should be considering that. Hearing other people’s poems made me think about myself and made me want to change and be better.
Are you excited for CUPSI?
Yes! I’m super excited! This is my first time. It's a bunch of different colleges competing over three or four days. I'm excited to hear poetry from other colleges and perform in front of so many other poets.
I really want to thank everyone who came! It was so amazing to see all those faces. It truly was a restorative event. There were so many magical moments in that room.