At the first Open Mic Night of the year, Esther Nunoo ’17 took the stage and silenced the audience with the words from her slam poetry piece, “Shalom.” Other than being “super nervous,” what she remembers most about the experience is what people commented on afterwards: her lack of shoes. 

“I don’t like to perform with shoes on,” explained Nunoo, “I feel like spitting—that’s what I call [speaking my poetry]—is very therapeutic. It’s kind of ritualistic. One artist put it perfectly, he said, ‘Performing poetry is kind of like performing open heart surgery, in front of an audience, with no anesthesia.’ That’s how I feel.” 

Nunoo has been performing her poetry for several years now. In eighth grade Nunoo starting doing rap battles with a friend, but it wasn’t until he introduced her to the Writer’s Collective in ninth grade that she truly began to take to slam poetry. The Writer’s Collective is a group of young people from New York City who gather on a weekly basis and write about social justice issues.  

For Nunoo, slam poetry is “putting life into your poetry.”

“[Slam] is about saying things that people don’t want to say...things that people are scared to say...things that we think but don’t know how to say,” said Nunoo. 

Nunoo was born in Ghana and spent part of her life living in the Bronx. She finds that much of her inspiration comes from her past and her heritage. 

“We love storytelling, so I’m always trying to tell a story of some sort,” said Nunoo. 

Bowdoin has been a change for Nunoo, but she finds inspiration here too. 

“Being in another environment and seeing different things, I’m always aware that there’s a world that we don’t see at Bowdoin. There’s a world that we don’t see in America. And seeing that, having experienced that...that’s a kind of motivation,” explained Nunoo. 

Nunoo’s poetry largely stems from her devotion to activism, and much of her poetry is about social justice issues. 

“I go through phases. Right now, I titled this phase ‘The Price of Life’ and I’m looking into child sex trafficking and sexual abuse,” said Nunoo. 

Nunoo’s process of writing also has no particular pattern. Sometimes she’ll write five pieces in one week, and sometimes she’ll write none. She finds she writes most between 1 a.m. and 3 a.m., and often is struck with an idea in the shower. 

Slam poetry, for Nunoo, is half about writing and half about performing, and she adores both parts equally. Even with all her slam poetry experience, Nunoo still gets nervous before a performance.

“My bones turn into worms, and I have this crazy energy in me,” she said. “I don’t know if [the audience is] going to like it and I start arguing with myself. It doesn’t matter whether or not they like it. I have a message to send.

“And then I’m like, what if my message isn’t universal? I start doubting myself,” she said.
Nunoo has not yet found a spot on campus conducive to writing poetry regularly. 

“I’m still searching,” she said, “But somebody took me to Simpson’s Point and as soon as I learn to ride a bike, I think I’ll go there.”