Slam Poetry Community

by Raiya Shaw

Before I began classes at UCF, everyone told me I would find my home there. With over six hundred and fifty student organizations and dozens of social events constantly popping up on campus, faculty, alumni, and older students comforted me with claims that I was bound to find a community to call my own. I moved into my dorm filled to the brim with anticipation, eager to involve myself in campus life as much as possible and find like-minded people to make those long-lasting “college friends” every adult talks about. 

However, my reality was much more disappointing. I attended the general body meetings of several organizations to no avail. I was able to keep myself busy with coursework and menial tasks, but I desperately missed that feeling of companionship I found with my family and close friends. Most of all, I missed the slam poetry community back home. 

After about a month of wallowing and adjusting to campus life, I decided no more. I began searching for resources to create the club myself.

Prior to moving to Orlando, I had been writing and performing spoken word poetry as a member of my high school’s Lightning Poets’ Society (LPS) club for three years. There, I overcame what had been a lifelong fear of public speaking, and learned how to speak with conviction. I competed in competitions, performed at state conferences and open mics, and found my best friends there. They weren’t afraid to be honest, vulnerable, and brave, and they inspired me more than I could have imagined. 

UCF was devoid of that community, and it felt unbearable. After about a month of wallowing and adjusting to campus life, I decided no more. I began searching for resources to create the club myself, and in the process met fellow UCF student and poet Michael Nazario working towards the same goal. After a couple months, like something out of a dream, Nazario brought UCF’s first-ever Young Poets’ Society (YPS) slam poetry club to life. He appointed a small officer board, with Clara Lekhi as secretary, Delaney Lazarus as treasurer, me as vice president, and himself as president. Since launching the club just last spring semester, we’ve hosted frequent open mics on and off campus, writing, self-publishing, and performance workshops, and “picnic and poetry” socials by the Reflection Pond.

Unexpectedly, seeing other students finally find their community in what we had created brought me more joy than finding that community myself. After the club was created, the amount of members who approached us with gratitude was unbelievable. At a club showcase, a student actually said to us, “This club is exactly what I came here to look for.” As we host more and more socials, open mics, and workshops, we watch as members admire each other’s work,  offer each other technical advice, and bond over their favorite poems. Not only do we get to witness members find their voice and confidence as they hop on a mic for the first time, but we are blessed with facilitating it in a vibrant, supportive community, too. We get to push poets to follow their passions, engage in profound discussions, and bring their poetry from the page to the stage.

When asked why I love spoken word poetry so much, I always say the same spiel. I think it’s easy to write something down on a piece of paper. You can erase your words, crumple that paper up, burn it, or choose to never reveal its contents to anyone at all. If you recite what you’ve written aloud, you bring it to life. You give your words power. Cadence, intonation, and language transform your writing into more than just a collection of random syllables. Suddenly, your words are spoken into existence, and you have no way of knowing what lines will stick with people, what quotes will touch their hearts. 

Even if you think you’re alone, or that nobody supports you, there will be people in time that share the vision and want to get involved.

–Michael Nazario, founder and president of UCF’s Young Poets’ Society

And the audience is more than willing to let you know, just as a part of the culture. During performances, the audience is encouraged to provide verbal and audible feedback to poems, whether that be in the form of snapping fingers or a heartfelt “mmm.” On multiple occasions, members of the audience have pulled me aside afterward to say that my poem changed their perspective or life. Even long after a performance, I’ve had members recognize me for a certain poem that touched them. In that sense, the audience makes your words eternal, no publishing or scripting required. Your words are out there, and they can make a difference. 

Seeing members forge their own long-lasting friendships and gain confidence in their words is a treasure to witness, and YPS is only just getting started. If you’d like to join, you can find us on KnightConnect, or follow us on Instagram @yps.ucf, where we post upcoming meetings and events. 

And if you’re still searching for that community to call home, too? Take a word of advice from YPS founder Michael Nazario: “Just do it— even if you think you’re alone, or that nobody supports you, there will be people in time that share the vision and want to get involved. I knew none of the officers or members prior to starting the club, but by putting myself out there and taking a leap into the unknown, it turned out to forge some beautiful friendships that I think will transcend not only beyond the club, but college in general.”