OASiS Places Second at International Poetry Slam Competition

OASIS Slam Poetry Team

From left: Nader Helmy '17, Tiauna Lewis '19, Vanessa Meng '19, George Abraham '17, and Cat Velez '17 finished second out of a field of 67 at the 16th annual College Unions Poetry Slam Invitational.

Swarthmore’s spoken word team, OASiS (Our Art Spoken in Soul), accomplished a historic feat earlier this month, reaching the final stage and placing second at the 16th annual College Unions Poetry Slam Invitational (CUPSI) from the University of Texas.

The second place finish is the best in the history of OASiS. The group finished with a total of 110.5 points, trailing only Temple University, which claimed first place with 112.8 points. 

CUPSI is an annual poetry slam tournament put on by the Association of College Unions International (ACUI), in which teams of four or five students from different colleges and universities compete against each other. This year, 67 teams from across the United States, Canada, and even as far away as Scotland competed for the title.

The Swarthmore team consisted of George Abraham '17, an engineering and mathematics major from Jacksonville, Fla.; Cat Velez '17, a Russian and intersectional representation major from Trenton, N.J.; Nader Helmy '17, a computer science and cognitive science double major from Lakeville, Minn.; Vanessa Meng '19 from Beijing, China; and Tiauna Lewis '19 from Denton, Neb. Each member made the team following a qualifying slam on campus last November.

“It was a dream to be on a national stage,” says Lewis, who claims that Swarthmore’s successful slam poetry team partly attracted her to the college. “For five years I've dreamed of coming to CUPSI and when I got to perform on finals stage in front of those hundreds of people, I felt incredibly fulfilled and appreciated.”

After a strong performance in the opening rounds, the squad bested the competition in the semifinals to reach the final stage along with Temple, Eastern Michigan, and a combined team from Columbia and Barnard.

“When the host read off the teams and we heard we made it to finals, the whole team collapsed to the ground,” says Lewis. “Our coach was yelling at us to calm down because we were all screaming and crying and hugging each other on the floor of this ballroom!"

On the final stage, the team delivered four poems: "Financial Aid" by Velez and Lewis; "Tips on Dating an Exotic Lover" by Helmy; "Ghosts, Death, Dreams, and Heritage" by Abraham and Meng; and "Les Misérables" by  Lewis and Abraham.

Despite finishing as the runner-up, the team members are ecstatic about the result. "I'm grateful for the team's success and proud of how hard we'd worked to make it to finals stage,” says Lewis.

Adds Helmy: “Overall it's been such a worthwhile experience. I grew in ways that I couldn't really have predicted, and it was incredibly helpful in shaping what is truly important to me. I was able to become close with the dynamic and brilliant people on the Swarthmore team as well as meet a whole network of poets around the country whose brave, resilient, empowered voices rarely get heard in the way that they do in the poetry community.”