The College Unions Poetry Slam Invitational (CUPSI) at the University of Texas at Austin was a historic four days for the Rutgers University Slam Team.
The team ranked 24 in the nation out of 68 schools and won first place in one of their tournaments.
The Rutgers team consists of four members — Justice Hehir, Denamisbragah Igusti, Nicholas Cruz and Marwa Adina — who participated in both tournaments of the competition and placed third and first, respectively.
It was the first time the Rutgers team had scored anything in first place in about six years, said Igusti, a School of Arts and Sciences first-year student. This allowed the team to place higher in their overall ranking.
“Rutgers had three-fourths rookies, so three out of the four of us were there for the first time,” Igusti said. “Usually at least half of the team would be second-timers or had been there before. I was a first-timer along with (Adina) and (Cruz, while Hehir) was there since her (first) year of school.”
In preparation for CUPSI, Adina, a School of Arts and Sciences first-year student, said the team would meet together in between classes or at night whenever possible and either write pieces or discuss important current events issues to influence their writing.
“Whatever we found dominated the most conversation was what we saw as a group piece. We were going into CUPSI with over 10 different group pieces from working as a team with things we talked about,” she said.
Competitors can write about almost anything in terms of poetry during these tournaments and in various forms, Ihusti said. Group pieces are always recommended and encouraged but individuals can also perform poems on their own.
The topics of these poems can become heavy, Igusti said.
During the tournament that won the team first place, the group had written and performed pieces on domestic violence, rape culture, suicide for a person of color and the dynamics of a mother-daughter relationship for a first-generation Asian American, she said.
It was because the team had a lot of heart in their performance that helped them place first in that specific tournament, she said.
“These pieces were genuine and they were coming from our own experiences and they weren’t assigned or we didn’t feel as if we had to act them in any way,” she said.
It was a blessing to be able to share not only words, but to have others connect with it and make an impact, Adina said.
What motivates Igusti to participate in slam poetry and be a part of the team is her experiences as an Indonesian American woman.
“Growing up and having people tell my stories for me and having my narratives and experiences told by someone of higher power, someone who didn’t actually know my experiences drives me to tell my own story and criticize narratives that try to tell my story for me,” she said.
When Adina was younger, she said she would write about anything and never knew what poetry was. After getting placed in a poetry class in high school, she realized that she had been doing this for her whole life.
“When I came to college I didn’t want to lose this sense of me because its something so magical to have — to be able to not only to tell your story — but to tell it in an articulate way and be eloquent with it and to use different metaphors and adjectives to express an emotion,” she said.
Adina emphasized the importance of poetry and its meaning to everyone, from the speaker to the audience.
“There’s a stigma with poetry that it has to rhyme or follow a rule guideline. You can stand up there and say random words and if they mean something to you then they mean something to everyone,” she said. “It’s an emotional, spiritual journey.”
Poetry connects everyone in one way or another, she said.
“Maybe not through your entire poem, but maybe they took something from it,” Adina said. “And I think that little spark is what matters, because it means something in different ways. People use poetry in books (and) theater, it’s everywhere. It’s to be able to create.”
Samantha Karas is a School of Arts and Sciences senior majoring in journalism and media studies and English. She is a correspondent for The Daily Targum. Follow her on Twitter @samanthakaras for more.