Rhapsodists rally in Atomic Age Theater’s poetry slam


With a mix of conversational smooth-talking and fast-paced tongue twisters, sophomore writing, literature, and publishing major Donnie Welch, captivated the audience to win a poetry slam hosted by Atomic Age Theater.

Atomic Age Theater held the competition for Emerson’s rhapsodists last Thursday in the Little Building Cabaret. Welch split the stage with eight other poets. Three tables judged the event: one table with members from Atomic Age Theater, and two other tables chosen randomly by the panel. Some of the performers, including Welch, Tiernan Cahil, Bobby Crawford, and Brenna Kleiman are also part of the College Union Poetry Slam Invitational team that will be traveling to compete in California in mid-April.

Kleiman said the CUPSI team described Welch as the “heartbreaker” poet — a quality he showed off in his first slam of the evening. He compared himself to his ex-girlfriend’s high school math textbook.

“The spine is torn, loose, wrinkled,” Welch recited.

Welch said he always gets nervous before a performance.

“As a poet you have to own the stage while being totally vulnerable,” said Welch in an interview. Not everyone can handle the instant scoring and audience criticism of slams, but Welch said he can’t imagine a life without poetry.

Kleiman agreed that it takes a certain strength to handle events like these.

“It’s enjoyable showing off in front of people,” the freshman writing, literature and publishing major said in an interview. “You need more courage than in forensics and acting because it is your words that you’re interpreting for an audience.”

Kleiman slammed about relationships among the gods and goddesses. Her confession, “I keep confusing the taste of the ocean with the taste of you,” stuck out as one of the night’s most memorable lines.

She described her poetry as having a storytelling element that is usually emotional. She said her CUPSI teammates describe her as the “sad poem girl,” because her verse is so personal.

After round one, the competition narrowed down to four: Welch, Cahil, Andrew Asper and Alexandra Yep.

Cahil, senior political communications major and another CUPSI member, spoke of his hometown school run by oil companies.

“I am a byproduct of your dark flowing desires,” he said . He spoke with sharp diction and at times walked away from the microphone relying on his strong voice.

In another poem, Cahil discussed love and historic events.

“Some may say I’m mad with love,” he said. “But people like that have nothing to learn from history.”

He describes his poetry as “nostalgic.” He said that he thinks every generation longs for youth, which makes his poetry relatable.

In Welch’s final poem of the night (and his highest-scoring), he chastised his neighbors for calling his uncle with schizophrenia “retarded” when he was younger.  

“Just because someone is mentally ill does not mean they’re handicapped,” he emphasized passionately, sending the audience into a frenzy of cheers and applause. He urged the audience to celebrate shortcomings and “find friends by the decibel of their laughter.”