The Oberlin Stories Project

On the Slam Poetry ExCo

Kelsey Atkinson ’12

“I was thrilled that I found an ExCo that so closely suited my interests and motivated me to keep writing, revising, and sharing my poems.”

Kelsey aims a ballpoint pen at an off-screen target

I was nearly certain upon entering Oberlin that I was going to be a creative writing major. But somewhere between my competing passions in politics and the environment, and the dire prospect that I may not be able to make a living writing creatively, I never ended up declaring that major. My parents were sighing in relief, but I was feeling a bit disheartened to have strayed so quickly from the path I set out to follow. Thankfully, the new path I meandered down was scattered with enough alternative routes to indulge my writing senses that I could still satisfy my creative writing fix without being sidetracked from my major studies.

In one impulsive moment during the ExCo Fair during my sophomore year, I signed up for Ryan Magiera’s ’11 Slam Poetry ExCo without having a solid idea exactly what slam poetry was (will this ExCo put me or my poetry in danger? Who is slamming what?) But pushing all shyness and naive reservations aside, I quickly immersed myself into slam poetry culture through this ExCo and learned to love this newly discovered art form.

I was amazed to enter this world where poets could burst out of the pages of their diaries and become dynamic performers of their art. These poets weren’t just writing about the beauty of love and nature, or even the stereotypical misery that poets often find themselves living in, but more tangible, optimistic, and insightful day-to-day topics that I found myself relating to. They were writing about the topics I liked to write about. They were reciting their verses the way I wanted to say them. These poets had the magical ability to encapsulate the imaginations of their audience members with the rhythmic delivery of their words in a way that really inspired me. After watching a few performers — live and on Youtube — I quickly decided I wanted to do that too, and in the ExCo performances that followed, I did.

Ryan’s ExCo summoned together poets who quietly hid in the darkest corners of Oberlin and nudged them under the spotlight and in front of the microphone to share their talent with other Oberlin students. I was thrilled that I found an ExCo that so closely suited my interests and motivated me to keep writing, revising, and sharing my poems. It inspired me to take part in open mics at the Cat and the ’Sco even after the class ended, so that I could relate my anecdotes with other Oberlin students about the troubles of focusing in Mudd, long distance relationships, and my ongoing battle against the constraining features of time. Oberlin has a strong community of open mic performers and poetry appreciators, which fosters a comfortable environment for us to grow in our writing and performing abilities, continue an inner search for truth and identity, and provide a venue for discussion and entertainment for our audiences.

Entering this ExCo, I didn’t know that one day it would serve as my gateway drug to performing my poems as rap lyrics on stage for the First Episode concert by the Oberlin Hip Hop Collective. I don’t think there was anyway for me to know that, but had I not taken a chance to explore my writing and performing passions through this ExCo, I don’t think I would have built up the stage confidence to rap in that concert.

Oberlin is not a place where side-dreams and interests are crushed under a stack of books; it’s a school that cherishes and encourages balance by providing multiple venues for each individual to flourish in his/her/hir own niche. It is up to each of us to explore the copious clubs, committees, and ExCos that Oberlin has to offer so that we can make the most of ourselves and our time at Oberlin. Getting involved in other student groups opens doors to new friendships and opportunities with an uncommonly talented and dedicated group of students that are intrinsically motivated to help turn our passions into reality. No major form required.