Madeleine Lemal-Brown ’18, one of three presidents of the Bowdoin Slam Poets Society, was inspired to start writing poetry because of Lin-Manuel Miranda.
“For me, that was really the first time I had heard anyone [perform] in a way that wasn’t quite rap, but it was this lyrical poetry type of thing,” she said of the writer and star of the hit Broadway musical “Hamilton.”
Lemal-Brown is president along with sophomores Sabrina Hunte and John-Paul Castells. Founded by Ryan Larochelle ’13, the Slam Poets Society seeks to “share ideas and bring awareness to the Bowdoin campus regarding all and any issues, social, political, and even the ones that reside within the deepest parts of us,” according to its mission statement.
“We’re basically just a group of writers that come together weekly to brainstorm ideas and present new material and get feedback. We’re open to poets, freestylers, slam poets or just regular poets, like a rapper—any form of written creativity basically,” said Hunte.
In addition to meetings, the group also performs regularly at slam events on campus and welcomes poets and other artists to Bowdoin. Most recently, it participated in an exhibition of student groups on Family Weekend and helped stage Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha’s “Queer Disabled Femme of Color Magic”.
Both Lemal-Brown and Hunte acknowledge the versatility of slam poetry, which can deal with anything from emotional experiences, to politics, to issues affecting Bowdoin students.
“I think that in such a high-stress environment as Bowdoin where everyone has a busy schedule and everyone is balancing extracurriculars and classes and things like that, you need some way to express yourself. So for me, I do it mostly through art and writing … I think that slam’s mission is definitely to just share [your experiences] with campus, make it known that it’s okay to feel these things and it’s also okay to be more creative about it,” said Hunte.
Slam poetry provides a personalized vehicle for self-expression, according to Lemal-Brown.
“One of the things I’ve been telling the people most this year is that anything you think is poetry really is poetry. The point is not the structure but how you deliver it, and what you think is the best way to get across what you want to say,” said Lemal-Brown. “You can’t control how someone will read a poem but you can control how someone hears a poem … It’s a very personal piece where you’re the writer, the director and the performer.”
Slam poets are able to convey emotion and meaning through spacing and other vocal cues, which are not necessarily apparent in written form and are specific to the performer. Developing such a style can be difficult, especially for those more accustomed to written verse, but Hunte and Lemal-Brown both enjoy observing this transformation.
“I think almost everybody kind of starts off by just reading their poem off the page, and I feel like slam gives them much more permission to enjoy their work. You don’t need to be neutral about it—the whole point is to show what you [felt] when you were writing this and what you want people to feel because of this,” said Lemal-Brown.
In addition to serving as a means for artistic expression, slam poetry also provides a platform for minority students to share their experiences. The club is part of Bowdoin’s Multicultural Association.
“We’ve had a lot of different people come on campus, and we want to show people that ‘hey, your idea of poetry might look like this because that’s how academics shape it,’” said Hunte. “So we’re trying to bring in different examples where people can actually see themselves being reflected on stage or on paper.”
The Slam Poets Society has about 10 full-time members, but often features guest student performers in its events. This connection, in conjunction with its versatility and variety of performances, has attracted more interest from the student body in recent years.
Interested students are encouraged to attend weekly meetings, which are held Thursday evenings at 8 p.m. in the Peucinian Room of Sills Hall.