I love words. Reading them, writing them, hearing them. I have a firm belief that they contain the power to heal wounds and bring people together. Never was that more apparent than this Thursday evening at the Last Poet Standing competition hosted by spoken word poet Jasmine Mans. Participants presented their poetry, raw and personal, to a large audience of students. There were winners and prizes, but it felt like much more than a competition. As Jasmine Mans put it, it was a safe space. A community of storytellers. People coming together to listen and support one another.
The event started at 7 p.m. at Norm’s in the Student Union. People surrounded the stage, far exceeding the number of chairs available. Mans, famed spoken word poet and author, began the evening by performing her poem “Footnotes for Kanye.” She then introduced herself and the other judges for the night, inviting attendees to loudly boo them. Mans explained that she asked this because they would be putting numbers on art to choose the winners.
Fifteen students participated in the competition, speaking about a wide range of topics. Howie, a senior sociology major, performed her poem “My Body Is” that spoke about struggling with body image. Student poet Sir Abstract dedicated his poem to those struggling with depression. Julia Moore, a freshman, performed a poem about her struggling relationship with her father called “No Name.” Often times, Mans would perform her own work between students. One of the most moving performances of the night was of her poem, “Michelle Obama,” which was about the inspiration Mrs. Obama has provided for young African American girls. In the wake of the newest presidential election’s results, the ending line “If I can’t, you will. She did.” seemed especially uplifting and resonant.
Students were full of support for one another’s poetry. As each participant performed, the room went almost completely silent. It would then erupt in thunderous applause after each poem. The three winners of the night were eventually chosen. Freshman Hilda Kolawole took the first prize of $400 with her poem “For The Motherland.” Her quote, “We love Africa even though it seems like she’s still in chains,” sums up the piece, which was about having pride in and loving Africa even through its struggles. Senior Lala Specific claimed second prize with her poem “Travel.” She is both a musician and poet, which was clear in her stage presence. She could project her voice so well that she did not even need a microphone. In third place came Zach Timmons, a junior English major. His poem “Still I Rise” spoke about the struggles of the African American community.
At the end of the evening, Jasmine Mans posed for photos and sold various merchandise, from posters to t-shirts. The event was hosted by the Campus Activities Board and the student organization Souls’ Speaks. Souls’ Speaks aims to help poets improve their work as well as give them a chance to share their poetry. Their next event will be a Langston Hughes Poetry Night on Nov. 15 at 7:11 p.m. in After Hours.