While slam poetry’s Chicago origins don’t exactly make it a Peoria-local phenomenon, Bradley’s women and gender studies department in conjunction with the Brave Sounds student organization gave the community an opportunity to partake in ways that truly hit close to home.
On Wednesday night, the department and organization held a gender justice-themed poetry slam in the student center ballroom.
Mara Kleinerman and Daniela Barzallo, junior English majors, hosted the slam. They opened the event with Kleinerman speaking on its origins and Barzallo giving a brief history of slam poetry. Both also encouraged the audience to be vocal and engage with the slam’s participants.
The slam started as a capstone project between Kleinerman and Barzallo for their minor in women’s and gender studies. Upon sharing their idea in class, Sam Remai, a senior psychology major and member of Brave Sounds, offered the organization’s help in setting up the slam.
“The purpose of the poetry slam is to allow you a space to reclaim parts of yourself that may have otherwise been reduced to silence due to not adhering to normative constructs of identity,” Kleinerman said in a video posted on Brave Sounds’ Instagram ahead of the event explaining its goals.
Sixteen students and faculty members (including the hosts) took the stage either with original works or pre-written poems. Memorization of the poems was not mandatory, and all were met with a welcoming atmosphere of attentive ears, agreeing hums, snapping and applause. As the poems’ accounts of sensitive personal experiences often contained serious subject matter, the hosts advised readers to give trigger warnings for select topics.
“This is … supposed to be a safe space for everybody, so if you need to leave at all, I will not be offended,” Kleinerman said. “In fact, I’ll actually be proud of you — you’re practicing self-care.”
Femininity and masculinity were two recurring topics of the poems that were shared. The former manifested in one student recounting her internal monologue during a catcalling, as well as another musing on the aging process of being a woman. The latter was explored by several students, with one reciting a poem about being regarded as feminine for having long hair, and another speaking on his experiences with being unable to express his identity and being deemed as less of a man for wearing a funny hat.
Another noted topic was LGBTQ experiences, with one student speaking on how they perceived their gender through a non-binary queer identity and another student discussing how she explored her sexuality upon starting college.
Sexuality also appeared in the context of religion, as one student shared a poem about how her Catholic upbringing affects her perspective on love and body image issues. Another student performed a poem detailing her struggles with religion and God in the context of mental health.
Mental health proved another recurring poem topic, with students and faculty members including librarian Christina Norton performing works with subject matter including general self-hatred as well as depression, anxiety, PTSD and eating disorders.
Other topics covered included sexual assault, through Barzallo performing Elizabeth Acevedo’s poem “Spear,” and hustle culture. She and Kleinerman also did a joint performance of a work written by Barzallo which explored a woman’s internal struggles through a Spanish lesson.
After sharing her poem, Norton promoted the Cullom-Davis Library’s upcoming “Poem in Your Pocket” event, which will occur on April 29 to celebrate April being National Poetry Month. The event will consist of baskets of poems on small papers available for students to take, in addition to the display of poetry books that have been public throughout the month.
The slam ended with Kleinerman and Barzallo offering an emotional thanks to the participants and audience.
“Thank you guys so much for sharing,” Kleinerman said. “This meant the world to both of us.”