Swarthmore's Slam Poetry Team Ranks in Top 10 at National Competition

by Camila Ryder '13
Swarthmore's CUPSI competitors
Swarthmore's CUPSI team (from left): Rose Wunrow '16, Taryn Englehart '15, Ian Anderson '13, Julian Randall '15, and Noel Quiñones '15, after performing at the Science Center.

Five Swarthmore student poets embarked on a poetic expedition last month, placing in the top 10 at a national slam poetry competition.

At the College Unions Poetry Slam Invitational (CUPSI) at Barnard College in New York, Ian Anderson '13, Noel Quiñones '15, Taryn Englehart '15, Julian Randall '15, and Rose Wunrow '16 competed against students from 59 other colleges and universities. After edging out teams from University of Texas at Austin, University of California-Santa Cruz, and Rowan University in their first round, the team moved onto the semi-finals, which pitted them against a selective group of 15 college teams. The Swarthmore team placed third out of five teams in the semi-final round, an impressive feat considering they were just behind CUNY-Brooklyn and University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, both of which earned top spots in the finals competition. Swarthmore is now ninth in the nation for college slam poetry.

Quiñones, an English literature and natural science major and Philip Evans Scholar from Queens, N.Y., first brought a team from Swarthmore to compete at CUPSI at last year's competition in Los Angeles. After his experience there, Quiñones believed that Swarthmore "had the talent and creativity to build a great slam team."  Taking on the roles of team captain and student coach at this year's competition, Quiñones realized the vast potential of Swarthmore poets and hopes to bring an equally strong team to the event next year.

Their success at CUPSI is what Quiñones calls a "stepping stone of the Swarthmore community," placing the student writing and slam poetry scene here on the national map.

Anderson, an honors political science major from Ann Arbor, Mich., noted that when they first arrived to CUPSI, Swarthmore was relatively unknown to most other colleges that repeatedly compete.   "At the beginning of the competition most people had no clue who we were," he says, "but by the end, we were talking to random people about our poems left and right."

CUPSI is one of the student programs organized by the Association of College Unions International (ACUI), which encourages students to organize poetry slam programs on their campuses. Last November, the five Swarthmore team members were selected in a "slam-off," where 20 students vied for the coveted spots on the CUPSI team. The team has worked tirelessly since then to produce and finesse their poetic work, selecting a repertoire of 23 poems to compete with at CUPSI. Judges critiqued their performances, scoring their poems on a numeric scale. Despite this competitive scoring, the CUPSI event is meant to be an opportunity for students to "share their artistry and voices," as well as embrace each other's creativity.

Quiñones now has "big ambitions" for the Swarthmore writing community, including the poetry collective, Our Art Spoken in Soul (OASIS), to bring student writings and poetry to a national stage.

"I hope this gives students incentive to do slam poetry even if they aren't on the team," he says, "I can only see [our success] strengthening as well as enlarging the writing community at Swarthmore."