Manic Mouth Congress, a UW student organization that creates a community of and for student poets recently hosted its “Grand Slam” poetry slam and selected the team of poets to compete in the national competition in April.
From an initial pool of 20 student poets, poets David Bjelland, Erika Bleyl, Shelby Handler, and Katie McCorkell earned the highest scores and their place at the College Unions Poetry Slam Invitational—the national competition. Writing about topics ranging from Apple computers, the Pokemon character Pikachu, Helen of Troy, and mental health, there’s no holding back when these students are in front of a microphone.
At a poetry slam, poets have three minutes to perform their work. Judges from the audience rate the poem on a scale of one to ten and those with the highest scores continue to the next round. At Manic Mouth Congress’ poetry slams, there are three rounds to each slam. These poetry events are anything but quiet and demure: audience members are encouraged to support poets during their performance with snapping, clapping, or cheering “spit it,” and to voice their approval or dismay at judges’ scores. Though poetry slams are a competition, great concern is taken to support all the poets performing.
Founded in 2010 by Honors student and Mary Gates Scholar Handler, Manic Mouth Congress hosts weekly open mike events and pre-open mike writing circles where students can discover and hone their craft among fellow student poets. In 2011, Handler received a Mary Gates Leadership Scholarship for her work with Manic Mouth Congress.
Last year was the first year students from the University of Washington competed in the national college competition, placing sixth out of more than 35 schools. This year’s competition is in Ann Arbor, MI, from April 4-6.
2011 UW Poetry Slam Team Bios
David Bjelland is a freshman in the Honors Program. He is studying computer engineering at UW, hailing from Rathdrum, Idaho. Equally inspired by his pursuits in music, theater, philosophy, math, computer science, and people-watching, he began writing and performing poetry this year at Manic Mouth Congress open-mic events.
Erika Bleyl spent her whole life in Japan and is now studying psychology at the UW. Also an officer in the student organization Campus Coalition for Sexual Literacy, she read her poetry to an audience for the first time in October 2010. Bleyl is in her second year in university, however she says she is “still waiting for her acceptance letter to Hogwarts.”
Shelby Handler is a Denver-born human who is currently in her second year at the UW. An Honors student and a Mary Gates Leadership Scholar, she is studying creative writing and women studies. Handler also served on the 2010-11 UW Common Book selection committee and is a student ambassador for the project. She has been performing her poetry for almost six years; at such locales as the Chicago Theatre, one dive bar, The Mercury Cafe, too many high school classrooms to count, living rooms, the Seattle Art Museum and at least ten bedrooms that were not her own.
Katie McCorkell is a junior from Lake Forest Park, WA. McCorkell is a student in the Honors Program and a Mary Gates Leadership Scholar for her work with the student organization Active Minds. She, too, is a student ambassador for the UW Common Book. She is majoring in psychology, but has also taken Chinese, Spanish, Italian and German classes at the UW. She wants to be fluent in rhyme and draws her poetic inspiration from Youth Speaks Seattle.