by Daisy Vollen
[originally published summer 2021]
Like many performance-based groups on campus, Oberlin’s lauded slam poetry team, OSLAM, has been sorely missing opportunities to share their art in person, the way that it is intended to be heard. On Saturday, June 12, ten poets and an enthusiastic audience gathered outside. Poets and those keen to listen basked in the sun, and the OSLAM members’ beautiful words, for the first time since late 2019. The spirit of OSLAM has persisted through all of the challenges that the past year and a half has presented. Indeed, they’ve come out even stronger by evolving into a more supportive community.
Imani Badillo, an OSLAM officer, spoke about how the infrastructure of the organization has changed to one that allows for more bonding and community-building among its poets. They explained that before the pandemic OSLAM was more focused on performances, but the past few months have prompted the group to check in more about how to best support one another and ensure everyone feels comfortable and safe. After months of writing sessions and casual get-togethers, being able to perform as a team in front of a physical crowd again felt extra special.
The Arboretum served as the perfect stage to debut the new OSLAM. Its openness provided more opportunity for the poets to not just interact with one another, but with the eager audience as well. In the past, OSLAM performances typically took place at the Cat in the Cream Coffeehouse, or at Finney Chapel where the annual Grand Slam is hosted. And while we hope to see the slam team back in these venues soon, the onset of the summer semester and the larger shift towards outdoor events in the wake of Covid-19 have opened a conversation about what OSLAM shows might look like going forward.
At slam performances sound is often the only method for interplay between poet and crowd, making vocal response an essential part of the culture. Unfortunately, these exchanges were less common during events hosted over Zoom, making the physical distance more palpable. Congregating in the same space again was enough to reinstate auditory responses from the crowd, but the Arboretum removed an additional barrier between artist and community. Poets were finally able to see their audience and feel surrounded by their support in a way that a stage and a spotlight often don’t allow. The natural setting also brought both a literal and figurative breath of fresh air to the event. Altogether the environment was extremely conducive to showing gratitude for the poets and their vulnerability, the ability to gather and be present with one another, and for the physical world.
The gratitude in the air also matched themes in the poems performed, which were particularly reflective in their nature. This event came at an unusual time regarding the members and future of the group: it was the first show for several poets, and the final performance for others. Three audience members, former OSLAM member Nasirah Fair and officers Amy Sahud and Olivia Huntley, served as reminders that, even after leaving the club or graduating from Oberlin College, the love amongst the community remains. And while it is difficult for the team to say goodbye to its beloved members, Zimmy Chu and Zoë Luh, it is impossible to ignore the excitement in the air and the brightness to come. Thanks to the return of beloved performances and the addition of several talented poets, OSLAM retains its artistic zest. For OSLAM, this summer is going to be all about new beginnings, experimentation, and as Badillo puts it, “enjoying Oberlin in full bloom.”
Thank you to Imani Badillo, Reggie Goudeau, and the rest of the OSLAM team!