Fresh Friday poetry events celebrates diverse, powerful voices on road to competition

New monthly poetry slam features poets vying for spots on the competitive team

Fresh Friday poetry events celebrates diverse, powerful voices on road to competition

Jamal Parker of Black Boy Fly Collective speaks at The Bridge Cafe.

The Bridge Cafe was packed. Students stood and sat wherever they could find the space. Music, courtesy of DJ Leayrohn King, blared from the speakers as host Kendall Baron signaled for attention to start the evening of poetry.

Speak Fresh, American University’s own slam poetry club, held its first official Fresh Friday event on Sept. 29 at 7 p.m.

Fresh Friday is a monthly poetry event conceived by Speak Fresh’s bout manager Ryan Shepard. At Fresh Friday, members of the Speak Fresh team and the AU community can perform their poetry. As bout manager, Shepard keeps track of the scores from each round of competition and helps run the event in conjunction the event coordinator.

The club designed the monthly event to help the group decide who will compete at the College Unions Poetry Slam Invitational each year, said slam coordinator Sydney McLane

“Speak Fresh Friday was designed as an event to help us as a team decide who will be competing at CUPSI next year, while also bringing a cool monthly event to AU and the DC community,” McLane said. 

At Speak Fresh Friday, a team of judges score each individual performance based on the median score given to the “sacrificial poet.” Sacrificial poets are used to establish a baseline score for comparative measure, preventing major fluctuations in scores by the judges.

The poets who earned scores high enough to qualify for the slam’s second round performed again for points that will determine who will be on the competitive team for the invitational.

Topics ranged from queer identity to experiences as people of color, and from relationships to mental health. Audience members rewarded performers with a chorus of snaps whenever they spoke something relatable or powerful, a common practice at poetry events.

Twelve performers competed on the first Fresh Friday. SOC sophomore Joselyn Hamilton, returning for her Speak Fresh second slam, performed a brand new poem.

“I get nervous every time I perform, but my goofy personality doesn’t allow me to show that. I wrote that poem when I was in my feelings, which I always am,” Hamilton said. 

Of the 12 performing poets, Yinka Martins, Jamika Holmes, Yasaman Hakami and Dakoury Godo-Solo advanced to the second round. Godo-Solo came out on top and won the slam with his poems “Liberty: A White Woman” and “Sweet Soul Brother.”

This was Godo-Solo’s first poetry slam at AU. He said that his poetry, a combination humor and genuine social commentary, tends to be situational and reflects what he sees happening around him.

“It’s great to see all these people… and take a break from all the BS in D.C.,” Godo-Solo said.

Jamal Parker and Jovan McKoy of Black Boy Fly Collective, a poetry group out of Philadelphia, were the featured poets for the September Fresh Friday. This was Black Boy Fly Collective’s first time at AU.

“We’re willing to go wherever people express themselves,” McKoy said.

Parker and McKoy’s poetry focuses on brotherhood and black identity, mixing intense personal accounts with broader societal observations. They ended their set on a high note with a hilarious group piece framed as a heated breakup with their barber.

Whether it deals with introspective or comical topics, McKoy said he sees poetry as a journey of self discovery.

“I perform so I can find my identity as a person and a poet,” McKoy said.

Both of the featured poets were a highlight for audience members.

The September Fresh Friday was the first slam SIS sophomore Myrtil had attended. She said she enjoyed seeing the talent of people of color that was showcased.

“It was an awesome turn out,” Myrtil said. “I’m so happy I got to see Black Boy Fly.”

After the event ended, Speak Fresh’s executive board said they were satisfied with the first Fresh Friday. The executive board estimated that around 100 people were in attendance.

Speak Fresh President Ren White hopes to maintain the same attendance and McLane hopes possibly to increase it by reaching out to poetry groups in the District.

“We weren’t even expecting this turn out,” White said.

The next Fresh Friday will take place on Oct. 20 at 7 p.m. in the Bridge. The October featured poet will be Pages Matam, Speak Fresh’s coach since 2013 and the director of Poetry Events at Busboys and Poets.

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