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Campus News

Slam Poets Spread the Word Every Other Wednesday Night

by Tavonna Goodman

It is 8 p.m. The lights in the back of Ritazza, the campus coffee shop, are dimmed. A microphone and a small round table with a compact portable radio on top of it, create a stage. The sounds of Brother Ali’s Shadows on the Sun, Nas’s Illmatic, or Miguel Pinero’s Lower Eastside may sail into the ears of outsiders as they stroll by, but the real entertainment inside of Ritazza is live.

Poetry Slam
Poetry Slam

Host Oren Silverman, 19, a sophomore from Brooklyn, N.Y., is the first to take the mike. He welcomes everyone, then consults the sign-up sheet, and calls Louis Blaut to the stage. Blaut is an improvisational artist who rarely writes his poetry before he recites it. The intensity of his performance reflects this fact.

Blaut, casually dressed in a T-shirt and jeans, confidently arrives on the stage. He keeps his head down at first, then bobs his head up and down to a rhythm that only he can hear. After a few seconds he looks up. His strong presence gives him the ability to connect with everyone in the room. With fire in his eyes, Blaut begins his poem…

“I wanna hear a UAlbany poem
I wanna hear a poem that rings through all four towers
From Indian to Colonial to Dutch and back to State…”

Blaut speaks with his body. His hands and his feet keep the rhythm of his poem as he continues...

“I wanna hear a UAlbany poem
I wanna hear a poem that echoes through the concrete corridors and flows through campus like the wind…”

He speaks with a New York City accent. Passion rises from his voice when he says...

“I wanna hear a UAlbany poem
I wanna hear a poem about how life here can inspire the brightest minds
in the darkest nights”

The captivated audience gives Blaut undivided attention as he concludes…

“I wanna hear your love poems, sad poems, angry poems, glad poems, your funny poems,
I wanna hear, a U Albany poem.”

When he finishes, the crowd erupts with supportive claps and howls.

Every first and third Wednesday of the month, 40 to 60 performers and spectators gather at Ritazza for the open mike hosted by Spread the Word, a group on campus that encourages self-expression. Silverman is the president of Spread the Word, and Blaut, 22, a senior from Brooklyn, N.Y., is the group’s treasurer.

Spread the Word originated in September 2001 on Lark Street at the Lionheart Blues Café. Eventually, the group had difficulty competing against the noise of people playing darts and shooting pool at the café. As a result, Spread the Word moved to Ritazza in September 2002.

“At the Lionheart it was just me and about 20 of my friends that I begged to come out. When Spread the Word moved to Ritazza, things began to take off and the group has been advancing at a steady rate ever since,” said Farrah Fidler, 21, a senior from Queens, N.Y., founder of Spread the Word.

This semester, the UAlbany Slam Team, which consists of five slam poets from Spread the Word, placed third in the regional poetry competition at SUNY Oneonta April 5. Slam poetry is a form of poetry that is usually associated with wordplay and fast pace, rhythmic lines that flow and connect with each other.

On March 6, Spread the Word worked with English Professor Jil Hanifan during the First Annual Regional Undergraduate Writing Conference, Words Without Walls.

“Spread the Word is a remarkable group of young poets. They’re smart, they’re excellent wordsmiths, and they’re socially aware. Their energy and openness really made the conference a success,” said Hanifan.

The group hopes to host the regional at UAlbany in upcoming semesters.

By October 2004, the group plans to present slam tournaments once a month. At a slam tournament, five judges and an audience decide which poet has the best poem of the evening. The poets compete in rounds. In the final round, two poets battle to win a prize.

Spread the Word is also participating in the SUNY Slam Initiative, an effort to create a poetry movement through networking. SUNY schools that already have an on-campus poetry group will contact other schools in the SUNY system to get them involved in poetry.

In addition, the group has been communicating with Danny Simmons, executive producer of Def Poetry Jam. Spread the Word hopes to have some of the talented poets who perform on Russell Simmons Presents Def Poetry, a late-night series that airs on HBO, perform at UAlbany.

Funding is a challenge for the group. Next semester, the group hopes to sell chapbooks and T-shirts (with the group logo). A chapbook is a collection of amateur self-published works. UAlbany students will create all merchandise.

“Faculty and staff can support the group by purchasing Spread the Word merchandise,” said Blaut.

“Faculty and staff can come out to the open mikes and support their students by performing or watching,” said Silverman.

“I think that these bi-weekly open mikes are a great forum for showing the strength and diversity of UAlbany writers, musicians, and performers,” said Lecturer Peter Monaco of the English department.

“I remember there was this kid … he looked very soft-spoken and quiet — not the type to stand up in front of crowds. He performed a poem about the stress he felt during finals week. He got up in front of people he didn’t know and released all of his frustrations. Moments like that are not offered to people all the time. The kind of connection you make with poetry is rare,” said Blaut.

With optimism about the group’s potential, members of Spread the Word are looking forward to the future.

“We want the attendance at the open mike to become too big for Ritazza. We want Spread the Word to become a common name around campus,” said Silverman.

To Contact Spread the Word, send an e-mail to: