Students to showcase slam poetry in Say Word performance

Emily Chin, Assistant A&E Editor


For a soft-spoken person like Mahalia Sobhani, slam poetry provides a means to express herself and speak about sensitive topics.

Sobhani, a Weinberg junior and administrative officer for The Slam Society, will be performing a poem about her brother’s struggles with mental health Thursday at Say Word, a night when students and professionals will be presenting their poetry.

The Slam Society, a spoken word group Northwestern, and No Strangers to Fiction, a writing workshop club on campus, will present Say Word in the Jones Great Room. 10 students and three professional guest poets will be performing at the event.

Sobhani describes slam poetry, or spoken word, as loose and passionate writing that involves some kind of performance. Slam poetry often involves social justice or subjects the writer feels passionate about, such as romance or rape culture, Sobhani said.

“How well your writing works depends a lot on how your audience reacts,” she said. “The people coming on Thursday are able to be flexible with what they’ve written. They can change it to go with the audience’s mood, they can decide to skip a line, whereas poetry written for the page or stories written for the book is a lot more solidified.”

Robbie Q. Telfer, a performance poet and teacher in Chicago, has been working with The Slam Society for the past six years and will be performing at Say Word.

In his own poetry, Telfer provides humor and tries to let his personality show, rather than choosing a distinct style, he said. He hopes students do the same.

“The culture around performance poetry has grown a lot so you see people who are more comfortable sounding like themselves than trying to sound like someone else,” he said. “You try to sound like your favorite poets. It’s occurring to them sooner that they can still sound like themselves and be successful.”

McCormick junior Nataliya Rokhmanova, a member of The Slam Society, will be performing a piece about her relationship with her mom. This is her second time performing slam poetry — her first was an open mic night in December.

Like Sobhani, Rohkmanova said she appreciates the lack of rigidity that separates slam poetry from more traditional forms of poetry and storytelling. She said she was first exposed to slam poetry in slam nights and coffee shops in Chicago and saw it as an eye-opening experience.

Even after 20 years of performing, Telfer said he still gets nervous when getting up in front of an audience. However, as soon as he begins his first poem, it’s like riding a bike, he said.

Sobhani described the experience as terrifying, but rewarding.

“I hope it’s a leading by example thing,” she said. “When I was a freshman it helped to see people I knew get up there and be really vulnerable. It gives other people the power to get up there and speak about something that’s really sensitive to them.”

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