September 28, 2011

Seeing the world through slam poetry

Less than a year ago, Amelia Garcia ‘11 was a journalism minor at Knox College. Instead of taking the traditional route of working in publications, Garcia now strives to build a community of slam poets based in her hometown of Rockford, Ill.
“Before I was introduced to slam, I didn’t like poetry because I ‘didn’t get it,’” Garcia said. “I think slam poetry has a much different way of communicating with the listener than written poetry. All it has to offer you is words on the page, whereas slam poetry is meant to be spoken to an audience. Things like body language and how a poet emphasizes certain words in a poem, that all facilitates ease in understanding.”
The accessibility of this art form allowed for Garcia’s quick induction into its community. She went to her first slam in April 2010, having never written, let alone performed, a poem. Although Garcia did not do very well in this slam, she was not discouraged. In January 2011, she went on to take Beginning Poetry Writing at Knox, marking the beginning of her journey as a slam poet.
Significantly aiding the progress of Garcia’s journey was an introduction to Andrea Gibson, a traveling performance poet known for exploring political and Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Queer issues in her works.
“She likes to raise awareness through her poetry and I think that’s what really drew me to her in the first place,” Garcia said. “Her poetry serves some larger purpose.”

Healing with words
In her own works, many of which can be read in her self-published book, “Not Every Word a Fist,” Garcia seeks to work through personal struggles, including loss of love and forgiveness.
“To me, slam poetry is a healing art,” Garcia said. “Most of my writing is about specific instances in my life that I needed to process.”
Part of this process has included overcoming stage fright, something Garcia struggled with until she began performing during her junior year of college.
“When I started reading my own poetry, it made me feel vulnerable because the poetry I write is very, very personal,” she said. “I have to write it to heal myself and part of my healing process is putting myself out in front of other people.”
When it comes to performances, Garcia has now learned to work with her nerves, allowing her to continue to get on stage and explore increasingly difficult aspects of life. She is currently writing about depression and self-harm.
Performing slam poetry has proven to be the only coping mechanism that works for Garcia.
“I was running multiple times a day, I was doing all these things trying to get these things out of my system and nothing felt right until I hit on slam poetry,” Garcia said.

Slam poetry movement
This strongly positive reaction to the art form serves as motivation to spread the slam community. Noting its ability to change lives, Garcia moved back to her hometown to start her movement and hopefully help to revive the arts in general.
“People talk about Rockford like it’s a hopeless, dead city and I don’t believe that at all,” Garcia said. “I’ve met some pretty talented people here. They just need support and encouragement.”
Garcia hopes to be someone who can help these aspiring artists.
“I think it’s wrong to up and leave a place. I want to be someone who’s working towards making a difference instead of running away when things get hard,” she said.
Although Garcia could have traveled to Chicago, home to an already-thriving slam community, she made it her goal to make a name for her hometown as its own artistic locale.
What Garcia currently has in the works are a series of workshops to be held at the Rockford Public Library, preparations for a slam event in November and, of course, the attendance of as many open mics as possible.
Garcia noted the benefits of having a goal such as building up Rockford as a slam poetry hub.
“While I’m working toward it, I can also work on perfecting my craft as a performance poet,” she said. “And that’s what I really want out of life: to have the time and ability to perform my poetry.”

Chelsea Embree
Chelsea Embree is a senior majoring in creative writing and minoring in art history. She previously served as co-mosaic editor and as an arts and features reporter for TKS. During the summer of 2013, she served as a content intern at The St. Louis Beacon. Chelsea has studied under former Random House copy chief Sean Mills and taught writing as a teaching assistant for First-Year Preceptorial. An avid blogger, she has written extensively about youth in St. Louis and maintains a lively poetry and nonfiction blog on Tumblr. She is also the director of communications for Mortar Board and co-president of Terpsichore Dance Collective.

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