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Big Prize Poetry Slam contests allows UMBC students to express themselves through poetry

Taking to the podium in the lobby of the Performing Arts Building, freshman Amy Vaichalkar began, “We would color the sky and the ground purple. Matter of fact our world was our canvas. But eventually it was reinforced that we need to stay on our paper.”

As they raise their voices and exhibit hand motions to portray emotion in their poems, the audience is drawn into the poets’ craft. Once they finish with a “thank you,” the room is filled with the thundering sound of claps as judges give their scores out of 10.

The Big Prize Poetry Slam, which took place on the evening of March 29, allowed for poets to compete for monetary prizes of $200, $100 and $50. This event is typically held around Homecoming weekend, but due to last year’s water shortage, the Slam had to be pushed back to late March this year.

Hosted by UMBC’s creative writing journal Bartleby, the English Department and the Office of Alumni Relations, the competition drew together the UMBC community to allow a space for creators to deliver their story to the audience.

The event allowed for students to take advantage of the spoken word to express themselves, as Vaichalkar did. Vaichalkar, who’s currently undecided on her major, interprets her poem as an exploration of ‘simpler times,’ where one could color anywhere they wanted instead of abiding by rigid adult guidelines.

Considering this was the first time the freshman performed at such an event, she admits she was initially “kind of terrified.” Vaichalkar notes that she loves poetry because “it’s a thinking space for me; if I ever have a problem I can write my thoughts down and spew my heart out.”

Dr. Nicole Pekarske is an English professor who was one of the five judges that decided the fate of the winners. Passionate about poetry herself, she was invited to be on the judging panel considering her experience with the art.

Dr. Pekarske noted how poems that stood out to her were ones that “take an emotional journey, in the sense that one moment a poem could be really serious while others could be humorous.”

Exploring difficult ideas also took preference with Pekarske, as she recalls one poet at the competition debated why “you can’t be whatever you want to be,” despite being told this cliche by many.

Michael Fallon, a retired English professor at UMBC, was another judge at the poetry reading, who mentioned “I love to hear young, enthusiastic poets read their work, it fills me with such joy.”

Fallon was picked to judge considering he has scored at many competitions prior, including the National Poetry Competition, Poetry Out Loud.

As for a winning poem, Fallon was on the look out for “work that pays attention to rhythm and sound, careful choice of words, and has illuminating imagery, that is read with conviction, and is about something that matters.”

“Being human is hard, and poetry allows us to express that at a deep level,” states Dr. Pekarske. Indeed, the Poetry Slam revealed the truth in this statement by allowing artists to express themselves through an emotional performance to portray their experiences as living beings.

For one night, the Performing Arts lobby was transformed into a safe space for poets to share their experiences with the campus community.