The Smiths’ song “Ask Me” plays as Joe Eldredge, a sophomore studying humanities, scans a blackout poem on the wooden desk at the front of the room.

The desks are filled with students writing in notebooks and conversing with friends. Thayne Keele, a sophomore studying elementary education, brings a copy of E. E. Cummings’ poetry out of his backpack and passes it around to the group. The meeting begins with a prayer, and Taylor Rethke, a freshman studying public health, shares a poem titled “I Am From.” Students applaud as she finished reciting her poem.

The Slam Poetry Workshop meets every Tuesday night in the Joseph F. Smith Building in room 323 from 6 to 7:30 p.m. to work on poems and encourage creativity in each other.

Thayne Keele, Candice Silvan-Durran, Joe Eldredge, Taylor Rethke and Ejoke Ekpagha converse before the Slam Poetry Workshop begins.

“I absolutely love being a part of the slam poetry group on campus,” said Ejoke Ekpagha, a senior studying biology. “It has helped me gain a very deep appreciation for a form of art that is expressive and beautiful. It has helped me find a place where I can feel free and truly express my emotions. Being in the group last semester, I also found a family. A place where I felt safe and completely accepted and a place where I could truly grow. We talk about deep concerns that sometimes it seems like we’re not allowed to express elsewhere.”

A student reads from some of his favorite poets’ collections.

Dunique Charles, former manager of the Slam Poetry Workshop, passed her title and responsibilities after graduating in December 2018 to Eldredge.

“I’ve been to lots of different societies and workshops, and this is probably the most honest and vulnerable workshop,” Eldredge said. “People really get down and dirty about what it’s like to be human, because through poetry you can be so honest. I just love it so much. It’s got a really good feel.”

Eldredge manages the Slam Poetry Workshop and organizes the Poetry Showcase that takes place at the end of the semester on March 26 in the Manwaring Center Little Theater at 6 p.m. The best way to invite the workshop to open up is to do it himself.

“I think I have to be the first one to do it,” Eldredge said. “The way we make this space is by creating an atmosphere where people feel safe. It’s not a lecture; I’m not a teacher. I don’t want to set any unrealistic expectations. I want everyone to feel validated in what they express.”

A PowerPoint with a black background comes up, and Eldredge goes through slides of blackout poems, where poets take an old book page and mark out all words except for the ones they choose to make a phrase or sentence. The students sit in a circle of desks listening and laughing together.

Eldredge wants people to know that the Slam Poetry Workshop is “not all depression, anxiety and angst. It’s a place to be real.”

“It’s a place to come to know yourself,” Eldredge said. “People think they can’t write poetry, but no one can write poetry like you can write poetry because we all have our own experiences. ‘What is most personal is most universal’ (Carl R. Rogers, American psychologist). Your experiences are valid because so many people have experienced something very similar. And it makes you more Christlike. As you share your own experiences with others it makes you realize, ‘These people experience the same thing that I do and they can help me,’ and it creates this nice, understanding space. So I hope people don’t think its this uppity, snobby thing but it’s just a very honest portrayal of who we are as humans and you can do whatever you want. It is yours and it’s a very unlimited art.”

Ejoke Ekpagha, a senior studying Biology, holds a stack of poetry books by some of his favorite poets.

Below is poem written by Eldredge, meant to be read while listening to the song “Roslyn” by Bon Iver and St. Vincent:

“Roslyn” by Bon Iver and St. Vincent

listen to the soft strumming of the guitar

the ancient beat echoes the invisible tempo of the snow’s percussion

the gentle, freezing breeze waving her arms to lead the music

as I dance along to it all

the last leaf lasting on a naked willow tree

my siblings got caught in the coarse hair of the neighboring cypress

I remember their cries of

“freedom! freedom! freedom!”

as their thin bodies flitted down a baton and were directed to the cold, predictable forest floor

did they choose to let go?

how were they to know

that their meager stems were to give way

unless they rejected lifeblood from the thin, venous branches from which they were born

considering the softly layered but nonetheless trampled snow

to be a better life than the incalculable symphony of

w i n t e r

 

Below is a poem written by Alex Gaspard, a senior studying business management:

“Poem by Ruth”

Every night when we go to sleep

We die

But we live through our Dreams

So I wonder

When people close their eyes for good

Do they die

Or do they continue to live

In another world of possibilities