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Poetry's power: U. students share spoken-word works

When people ask me why I write, I tell them it’s because that’s the only way I know how to make sense of the world. When people ask me what poetry means to me, I tell them it’s family. Poetry, and especially slam poetry, has long been a cathartic form of expression and an emotional release for many poets that I’ve run into in my time at open mics and other poetry events. 

This week, I was honored to be a witness to the expression of poets competing to qualify to perform for the MARK Conference. The event was called “My Spoken Mark: Slam Poetry Open Mic,” and was hosted by Rutgers University Student Centers and Leadership & Experiential Learning. 

It was also co-sponsored by the beloved Verbal Mayhem Poetry Collective. It was a part of the Leadership Week 2019 and the night was filled with friendship, inspiration and hot chocolate. The event also featured Rutgers alumna and national poet, Jade Chandler. 

The event began with Chandler powerfully illuminating the room with her words and performance. She had a presence that forced your attention to be fixated on her expression, and her easy-going, upbeat energy lit up the room. She touched on topics of intimacy, the experiences of Black lives in America and her own experience as a Black woman. 

The slam poetry contest was set up so that competing poets were to go through two rounds of poetry. The first round challenged poets to incorporate the prompt about what kind of mark they want to leave on the world, while the second round was open to their own work being showcased. 

All poets that competed put out parts of themselves for people to hear, which isn't always easy. Poetry is a very intimate process as it can provide a home for healing, experience and solace for many people. When I talk about how poetry is family to me, it’s because when I felt like the world was closing in on me, poetry reached out its arms and told me I was going to be okay.

One of the best parts of the event was when I was able to talk to some poets about what motivates them to write poetry. “What inspires me to write poetry are my life experiences, the things that inspire me on a daily basis and things that make me go in awe,” Chandler said. “There are times when I'm walking in public and looking at life and seeing how it’s taking me by surprise and it’s just motivating me to have a new perspective on how I’m looking at life and that just motivates me to bring a new awareness to my poetry and to the people that are my listeners."

Poetry has long been used as a tool to describe the world that we have to live in. It’s long been a source of understanding but also of one that brings about community and allows other people to connect with each other. 

“Poetry allows me to find parts of myself that I don’t know exist and acknowledge those parts of myself," said Reva Rutherford, a School of Arts and Sciences junior, when asked about what poetry meant to her. Her answer moved something in me, because poetry is an extension of myself and of my world. 

I hope, for whoever is reading, that poetry has brought out some pieces of you that you didn’t know were there. 

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