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The Arts
02.13.08

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Saul Adventurer: A piece by Saul Williams capped the final round of the Kinetic Poetics festival last week.

Slam Dunk

The Kinetic Poetics festival at UC-Santa Cruz scores big.

By Garrett Wheeler


When Jack Rusk delivered his spoken-word piece at the final round of the Kinetic Poetics Project festival last Wednesday, it was clear that the second-year UCSC student had as firm a grasp on the grim realities of social construction and negative stereotypes as any Ph.D.-wielding scholar.

It's surprising, but then again it's not. Call it what you will—hip-hop, spoken word, slam poetry—official names are of little importance. The type of lyrical presentation embraced by Rusk and his contemporaries at last week's Kinetic Poetics Project festival is not concerned with fitting into something easily tangible or marketable. This is not 50-Cent commercialism or any kind of corporate scheme. This hip-hop is real, from urban to suburban; it is the essence of street-smart poetry focused on social change and artistic growth. As Rusk puts it, "Spoken word is the continuation of the modern oral tradition, and it's an honest medium."

Beginning Sunday, Feb. 3, the hottest young poets in Santa Cruz converged in Porter Dining Hall for a chance to compete against their peers and earn a spot on the UCSC slam team. Topics included race, sexuality and alienation.

"This is the biggest poetry festival we've had. It's unprecedented in Santa Cruz," said Rusk. Members of the newly elected team will compete in the college nationals in the spring.

The Kinetic Poetics Project is a student-run organization that began five years ago in order to establish a community of spoken-word poets at UCSC. Organizing poetry slams (like the Erotic Slam coming up this week on campus), workshops and a poetry collective is all part of the Kinetic Poetics mission. "It's a great way for students to come together and listen to each other's stories," Rusk says. "The local scene is booming."

Guest speakers like Saul Williams and two-time national champ Anis Mojgani provided motivation for the students. "Mojgani is one of my favorite poets," says Rusk. "He's an amazing artist—seeing him Sunday night was really inspiring."

Today's face of spoken word, Saul Williams, made his guest appearance after Wednesday night's final round. Williams, who first gained international recognition for his jaw-dropping verses in the mid-'90s, delighted the max-capacity crowd, reciting four selections of spoken word. After his performance, student fans circled Williams, getting autographs and talking with the poet.

"That's another great thing about spoken word," Rusk said, motioning to Williams. "There's no rock-star status—it's all real. You can hang out and talk to anyone. It's not for everybody, but spoken word is a good way for anyone to express themselves."


THE EROTIC SLAM With Christian Drake and Laura Yes Yes, Thursday, Feb. 14, at 9pm at Cowell College Fireside Lounge, UCSC. Admission is $2-$5 on a sliding scale.


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