Social Encore: Spoken like a champion
BY JERMEL-LYNN QUILLOPO / Special to the Star-Advertiser
There are many outlets for people to express themselves, whether it’s drawing, painting or spoken word. Tonight at Fresh Cafe in Kakaako, 12 finalists go head to head as they compete in the 2012 HawaiiSlam Grand Slam finals. Poets will endure a three round elimination match as they vie for a spot on a Hawaii team that will participate in the 2012 National Poetry Slam in Charlotte, North Carolina.
I was able to talk to eight of the poets who will compete tonight, including 21-year-old newcomer Jenna Robinson. A history and ethics studies major at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, Robinson said she stumbled upon the art form in December when she noticed herself being emotionally overwhelmed.
Being a musician and rapper, she wrote often and shared a poem with a friend that told a story about heartbreak and how it creates a cycle. Her friend enjoyed it and encouraged her to share it at an open mic event. Robinson realized that sharing her writing this way gave her an opportunity to heal along with an outlet to share her feelings with others.
“People were pretty accepting,” she said. “Especially being in college, there is so much information thrown at you and you want to try but don’t succeed but are overwhelmed.”
The youngest competitor tonight is 18-year-old Serena Simmons, a liberal arts major at Kapiolani Community College. She got interested in slam poetry when several people from non-profit organization Youth Speaks held a workshop at her high school. Motivated to improve her writing, Simmons attended a Youth Speaks workshop in Chinatown. After her HawaiiSlam debut during the summer of 2010, she was hooked.
“There are so many traditional formats and rules when it comes to poetry and what attracted me was that you can do whatever you want,” said Simmons. “For me, I need as much space as possible, no boundaries.”
Being in the U.S. Armed Forces for a couple of years, Andrew “Drew Imagination” Dames was used to boundaries and rules. After he got back from Washington D.C., he wanted to find a way to share his writing with others. He said slam poetry contributes to his sanity and helps him find balance in his crazy life.
“The power of slam poetry is overlooked and being able to share your intimate thoughts and issues is a very rare thing,” said Dames. “(You are) able to add your own personal flavor in several ways. You see artists grasp complex topics and express it in a raw form and are not afraid to break criticism and stereotypes.”
Wanting to gain more performing experience, local beatboxer Jason Tom was introduced to slam poetry in 2006. Finding inspiration from music, he was inspired by his peers to take on a new venture as an artist.
“It’s exciting to go on stage and they appreciate it because it’s the human voice. They care about what we have to say,” Tom said. Nervous for Thursday’s big event, he said all he wants to do is show the crowd that he is having fun.
“It’s intimate on stage and seeing people get up there is a wonderful thing.”
Whether it’s performing in theatre or working production, Tuia’ana “Tui-Z” Scanlan is no stranger to the stage. Scanlan returned home after graduating from college in California and was outraged when he strolled through Chinatown and saw the effects of methamphetamine abuse. Wanting to write his frustrations down, Scanlan wrote a poem and performed it at the Ong King Art Center.
“It was tragic when I came back home and saw the problem, he said. “I asked, ‘Where have my people gone?’”
Even though Scanlan is saddled with 80-hour work weeks from time to time, he stays up late just to get his thoughts down.
“Whether is it’s writing about something that is uncomfortable, there is a universal capacity to feel that,” said Scanlan. “Insecurities about your professional job or the feeling of being angry and the injustices in our own islands or abroad, everyone has the ability to feel emotions and there is just so much room for interpretation.”