Learning Life Lessons Through a Love of Literature: A Personal Essay

By Kayla Overbey

Thursday, December 13, 2012

In sixth grade, I was not social. Instead of making friends and participating in class, I lost myself in stories. Most of my mornings in homeroom were spent ignoring the other students and downing a few chapters of my latest read. My homeroom teacher, eager to solve this problem, interrupted the classroom conversation one morning and announced that I was in need of an “intervention” (her words, not mine). Horrorstruck, I watched as every young face in the room turned to

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find me slowly shrinking behind whatever was my current book.

“Kayla, we just think you shouldn’t read so much,” she explained before herding me to the middle of the room. She encouraged the other students to surround me, and they all began to chant. Really. The words “put down the book” are permanently stamped into my brain, as well as a burning feeling of rejection, surrounded by people who disapproved of me and my habits. I clutched my book

like a paper shield to my chest, wishing that the classroom would disappear, that my teacher had never spoken, that everyone would just leave me alone.

It was only when one of the students in the circle reached forward and ripped the book out of my hands, tearing a page, that the teacher finally ended the game. Her nervous expression told me she felt her playful “intervention” had stepped a bit too far. We all returned to our seats and I sat, tearful and red-faced, feeling the angry ball in the pit of my stomach slowly ebb away.

I don’t blame my homeroom teacher. She was a very kind, silly woman and only meant well. After all, I had the social skills of a toaster and was terrified to make eye contact, let alone strike up a conversation with my neighbor in history class.  However, I’m almost 21 years old and still in love with stories. At the time, I thought something was wrong with me. Why did I read so much? Now, I think my teacher should have turned her worry toward the other students.

Since when was reading so uncool? I hear more kids exclaim that they hate reading and would rather die than work their way through “Huckleberry Finn” or “Where the Red Fern Grows.” For me, reading provided hours of vivid entertainment that extended beyond the length of a movie or the battery life of a handheld video game. It showed me more than my small, Midwestern hometown of Hays, Kan., would ever have to offer.

Reading isn’t just the interpretation of letters on a page — it stimulates creativity. It’s a lifestyle, a learned skill. According to Scholastic’s Reading Facts, two thirds of eighth-graders don’t read at their grade level. In 2005, 12thgraders scored lower in reading than they did in 1992 in the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). Reading was once a privilege, only accessible to the literate and wealthy. I work at the KU Writing Center, and I frequently help native, English-speaking students who don’t understand where a comma goes, or how to break up a run-on sentence. What happened to literacy?

My schoolgirl days were filled with other kids telling me that reading was weird. They called me a nerd simply because I would rather check out books from the library than sit and watch “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” (although that show ishilarious). That label followed me through high school, despite the fact that I graduated with average grades. I was no valedictorian, though some expected me to be. And for what? Because I remembered the big words I read and used them? I don’t really know. But I do know that reading helped me in more ways than I can ever understand.

I’m glad I doggedly stuck with my reading habits, encouraged by a few beloved teachers and many family members. Even at such a young age, I explored the world and saw so much more than what lay in my closed-in hometown.  I wouldn’t take back a second of it, not even the weird, cult-esque intervention in homeroom. The lessons I learned from my favorite story characters stuck with me; they carved a path for me, showed me I could face my demons and told me to keep going. They showed me where to go. All I had to do was follow.

(This was originally posted on the Political Fiber website on December 13, 2012. I’m posting it here to archive my work. You can read the original here.)

Popular Dystopian Books and Why We Like Them

By Kayla Overbey

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Books portraying alternate societies, post-apocalyptic worlds and failing governments have been extremely popular lately—in fact, the number of dystopian-themed books is at its highest point since the 1960s, according to an analysis by GoodReads. But these kinds of books date back much further and remain a typical choice for sci-fi readers. So, what about dystopian books makes them so popular?

“Apocalyptic stories allow us to express our fears, and, perhaps, serve as warnings to prevent such futures from coming to be,” said Chris McKitterick, director of the Center for the Study of Science Fiction at the University of Kansas.

He said that apocalyptic, dystopian fiction always seems to ask one central question: What if _____ happens? The blank could be something to do with technology, society, evolution or about anything else.

Many of these books focus on governments — corruption, cruelty or how very easy it is for them to break down — and become more popular during turbulent political times. Most recently, we’ve seen the rise of books like the Hunger Games trilogy, which surpassed Harry Potter as the bestselling series on Amazon.

Here’s a look at five classic dystopian novels that point out flaws in governments and societies that, in ways, aren’t so different from our own.

  •  Lord of the Flies by William Golding

“Lord of the Flies” tells a story about the formation and failure of government. Some question its categorization as dystopian; there are no zombies, end-of-the-world threats or post-apocalyptic environments. Instead, the stage is a lonely island for a group of stranded British boys who set up their own makeshift society. And, guess what? It eventually turns south.

KU senior Maria Juarez from Des Moines, Iowa, said the book exposes human nature when civilization falls apart.

“And best of all, children committed all the atrocities on the island,” Juarez said. “If the aliens were to visit Earth, I would put a copy of ‘Lord of the Flies’ in their welcome basket.”

  • The Giver by Lois Lowry

Welcome to a seemingly perfect society, one that strips its citizens of pain, suffering and choice. Only one lonely person must experience those: the Receiver of Memory. When 12-year-old Jonah steps into this role and learns what his community is hiding, his notion of the “perfect” town begins to come apart at the seams.

Kiley Dinkel, a freshman at Fort Hays State University from Hays, Kan., said the book’s theme of individuality is still memorable, though it’s been years since she first read it.

“The message that really stuck with me was how important it is to be different,” Dinkel said. “Being different isn’t a bad thing… it makes you who you are.”

  • 1984 by George Orwell

Arguably one of the most popular, classic dystopian novels of all time, “1984” focuses on a tyrannical government that is out of control. This political fiction exposes a society filled with never-ending war, constant government surveillance and public mind control. Individuality and independent thinking are considered “thoughtcrimes.”

Matt Lancaster, a junior from Basehor, Kan., says aspects of the novel — like the “telescreens” that spy into civilians’ lives — hit close to home and raise intriguing questions.

“[The book] praises the right kind of individuality, the kind that questions unjust establishments,” Lancaster said. “It is a great example of socialism gone too far.”

  • Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

A nightmare for book nerds everywhere, “Fahrenheit 451” takes place in a society where books are burned and firemen don’t put out fires, they start them. Guy Montag is a fireman whose questions soon stick him in the middle of the censorship conflict.

Diane Mason, an English teacher at Hays High School in Hays, Kan. said that teaching material like “Fahrenheit 451” always raises questions of censorship in the classroom.

“Every couple of years, I encounter a student who refuses to read this or that book,” Mason said. “I think to myself, is this book so terrible that I should burn it? Get it out of your sight so that you never have to experience a thought that challenges your own?”

  • The Road by Cormac McCarthy

This grim mixture of high literature and popular fiction depicts a father and son’s journey through a post-apocalyptic, broken world where survival is a struggle. Starvation, cannibalism and the constant threat of death all make this a grave read. This novel will pose at least one significant question to its readers: What’s the meaning of living an empty life?

Austin Schauer, a senior from Topeka, Kan., said themes in the book, such as cannibalism, are “terrifying, for obvious reasons.”

“It will make you reevaluate everything you’ve ever thought and the way you live your life,” he said.

(This story was published by Political Fiber on Thursday, Dember 6, 2012. I’m publishing it here to archive my work. Read the original post here.)

’50 Shades of Grey’ Influences Third-Wave Feminism

By Kayla Overbey

November 14, 2012

It’s been called “mommy porn” and ridiculed for its lame writing, but for some reason I still felt drawn to pick up “50 Shades of Grey” this summer. Maybe it was the fact that itoutsold every Harry Potter book. Maybe it was because, despite its origins as Twilight fan fiction — yes, really — it’s mega-popular. Out of curiosity, I explored Amazon and found reviews that scorn the novel for its endless repetition and unrealistic sex.

I downloaded the book, which was written by British author E.L. James, onto my Kindle and secretly read everywhere: my house, the gym and my desk at work. I read it to my boyfriend over the phone and couldn’t get through one line without giggling over the absurdity. Seriously, I dare you not to laugh while reading, “I eye Christian’s toothbrush. It would be like having him in my mouth.”

The plot of this erotic novel revolves around a pretty taboo subject: BDSM, also known as bondage, discipline, sadism and masochism, for all you innocents. Ana Steele, the main character, is a 22-year-old college virgin swept off her feet by the predictably young, successful multi-billionaire Christian Grey. As their relationship progresses, so do the sticky details. Ana is introduced to a dominant/submissive relationship and Christian’s personal “red room of pain.”

The book, which was a runaway best seller after its release in 2011, has made James the best-selling author of Amazon.co.uk. But it has an impact that extends beyond record sales.

Despite the ridiculous storyline, I understand how “50 Shades of Grey” manages to walk such a thin line between sadistic porn and feminist booster. There’s a weird balance that’s solely up to interpretation. Modern “third-wave” feminists like the series because it encourages bedroom confidence. Middle-aged women and college girls everywhere are taking control of their sexuality. Local coffee houses, subways and college dorms have never seen so much BDSM.

More traditional feminists, however, say it glorifies a patriarchal society, where men make decisions and women are dominated. A man controls the main character; this situation is not pro-feminism. So, how does a book popularizing a dominant/submissive relationship and all its juicy facts fit into the feminist movement and sexual politics?

Women are at the forefront of current national issues, and the trilogy has given many female readers more confidence sexually. However, some feminists, like Marina DelVecchio, a professor of English at Durham Technical Community College, worry that these books will redefine the current interpretation of feminism in an unhelpful way.

DelVecchio, who specializes in women studies, feminism and literature, described “50 Shades of Grey” as a “literary monster” and said that women pushing the book as pro-feminism are misinterpreting the relationship between Grey and Steele.

“I can see how third wave feminists with an eye on sexual liberation would find this book empowering even though I disagree with it,” DelVecchio said.

She also said some women find it empowering because of a recent feminist push that “attributes power and equality to women’s sexual liberation.” However, she points out that Steele is not experiencing this; she’s merely learning what Grey wants her to learn, and her experiences are limited to his desires. The female lead of this supposedly woman-empowering book is not in control of her own sexuality.

“She’s constantly denied her independence and personal choices outside of the bedroom,” DelVecchio explained. “She is confined and prodded by foreign objects, not for her affinity for BDSM, but for her co-dependent need to please the man she loves.”

Katie Willits, a sophomore at Longview Community College in Lee’s Summit, Mo., disagrees. She said the content initially surprised her, but captured her attention immediately. Willits said that she never viewed the main character as completely submissive to male control. Instead, she thought the series was empowering. “I think it teaches women to want more control of their own sexuality and to be comfortable with themselves doing so,” Willits said.

This idea of sexual exploration is a strong focus in third-wave feminism. But what is third-wave feminism? The movements of the women suffragists in the 19th century and the bra-burners in the 1960s solidified feminism today. Women in those movements fought for important milestones, like women’s right to vote, equal access to education and a place in the workforce. Third-wave feminists are strongly defined by their ability to choose. They can choose to be stay-at-home moms or build high-position careers. They can choose to get married or remain single. Most relatable to “50 Shades of Grey” is the importance third-wave feminists place on women experiencing sexual liberation without being called nasty names.

For some readers, the abuses of “50 Shades of Grey” are obvious. Amanda Schulze, a junior at the University of Kansas and the reproductive justice coordinator of the Commission on the Status of Women, said she recognized the unhealthy aspects of the fictional relationship when she started reading.

“As a survivor of being in a mentally abusive relationship for two years, it was obvious to me,” she said. “[The main character] let a man control every part of her.”

Despite her personal disagreement with the novel’s message, Schulze agrees that women may possibly feel more open to exploring sexuality thanks to the book. Additionally, she doesn’t find BDSM degrading and doesn’t think Ana Steele should be a blanket representation of all women. In fact, she doesn’t think “50 Shades of Grey” is really capable of influencing the third-wave movement in a lasting way.

“I don’t think it will hinder the women’s movement because it’s a fiction novel, and it’s not doing half the work we’re doing out here. It’s not what we’re about,” Schulze said.

“50 Shades of Grey” might not be what all feminists are about, but it’s getting a lot of attention from women. Much to the dismay of some readers, like Schulze, the audience continues to grow.

“I really, really hate that my grandmother is reading this series right now,” Schulze said.

But hey, who can deny a woman her sexual liberation, even if she does have grandkids?

(This story was published on Political Fiber’s website on November 14, 2012. I’m posting it here to archive my work. The research and story are by me, the graphic was designed by Kelly Stroda. See the original here.)

KU’s Common Book Author Eula Biss sparks discussion of race, identity and culture

By Kayla Overbey

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Critically acclaimed author Eula Biss spoke to more than 700 readers about her controversial book, “Notes from No Man’s Land,” on Oct. 4 at the University of Kansas. The discussion included topics of community and neighbors as well as excerpts from the book, which is composed of essays focusing on race and identity in America.

The book won the National Books Critic Circle Award and is in use as the inaugural book for the KU Common Book Program. Incoming freshmen were given “Notes from No Man’s Land” as part of a “campus wide initiative to engage first-year students” and build community, according to the KU Common Book website.

Race and Identity

“Notes from No Man’s Land” tackles racial identity and prejudice in America through a blend of personal experience and research. Biss reflects on her experiences working as a “black news” reporter, resisting tourism in Mexico, living in New York City and recognizing the diversity inherent in different locations and cultures. The introduction, which initially explains the history of telephone poles and then develops into a discussion about lynching, sets a radical tone.

“I do see it as my responsibility to exist within this skin, this body, this identity, in the most ethical way possible,” Biss explained. “This book is my struggle with that thinking. And I don’t think it’s easy thinking.”

One of the main goals for the book is to facilitate discussion. However, race and equality are not always easy to chat about. Sarah Crawford-Parker, assistant vice provost and director of First Year Experience, said that a university atmosphere is perfect for such dense subject matter.

“We need to understand [racial] complexities,” Crawford-Parker explained. “We need to understand where people are coming from. If we can’t have those conversations here, where will our students have [them] once they go out into the world of work?”

“Notes from No Man’s Land” has inspired course material in sociology, journalism and psychology classes, among others. Despite its adaptability, the reception has not been universally positive.

White Guilt

For some students, the readings have resulted in cases of “white guilt,” a collective emotion felt by some white people for the racist treatment of people of color, both historically and presently. Scholarly authors like Shelby Steele and Judith Katz helped to develop this idea. Howard Graham, associate director for academic programs in the First Year Experience program, said one of his students felt “accused” while reading the book.

“The question almost verbatim was—and I give the student so much credit for being honest—they said, ‘I just feel like she’s accusing me of something,’” Graham said. “It’s interesting that some students are feeling ‘attacked,’ I think. Vulnerable is a better word.”

Many white readers have experienced an automatic, defensive reaction against the idea of racism during book discussions. While Biss said her intention was never to attack anyone, she does believe that these moments of discomfort inspire deeper thinking.

“Actually, I would be very, very disappointed if the book did not make some people uncomfortable, defensive, angry…” Biss said. “I think all of those negative emotions are necessary and inevitable when encountering some of these ideas for the first time.”

Biss is no stranger to the thoughts her essays present. She admitted to feeling troubled by the content, even to the point that she no longer wanted to write the book. However, she worked through the dilemma, just as students should in uneasy classrooms situations.

“It means that they’re being challenged in ways that are deeply uncomfortable. And I actually think that’s fundamental to education,” Biss said.

Difference of Opinions

The common book has caused students to form a range of reactions. KU junior Nicole Rissky from Tecumseh, Kan., said she enjoyed “Notes from No Man’s Land” because she, and many students entering college, could relate to the idea of self-evaluation. However, Rissky “felt naïve” after reading about “obvious” societal inequalities.

“I really do think it’s a good addition to the curriculum,” Rissky said. “I think that it challenges students and gives them a chance to get a taste of the kind of thinking they’ll be doing in this new chapter of their lives.”

On the other end of the spectrum is Lexie Coutts, a KU junior from Atchinson, Kan., who said during a sociology class that the implicit message of white guilt offended her. Coutts has lived throughout the Midwest and as a result, the content did not surprise her.

“To me, [Biss] seems very whimsical in her life and ideals,” Coutts said. “I’ve lived lots of different places so I don’t really feel like I was learning anything from Eula Biss.”

Rhavean King, an African-American KU freshman from Memphis, Tenn., read the book during a summer course and Skyped Biss during the class. She said she appreciated Biss’ head-on approach to racism in America and found it unusual to see a white woman writing about race in such a contemporary way.

“When I read about things like this, I always get it from an African-American standpoint, because a lot of times those are the only people comfortable enough to talk about it,” King said. “But having a Caucasian woman write about her experiences—being discriminated against, being in African-American neighborhoods, things like that—that really struck me.”

Crawford-Parker and Graham both emphasized that the goal of the common book is to inspire thought within readers, despite differing opinions.

“We’re all bringing our own lens and we all see slightly different things,” Crawford-Parker said. “That’s what generates the conversation, the discourse, the exploring of some of these ideas further. Again, we didn’t want everyone to think the same exact thing about some of these issues.”

After hearing the struggle students are experiencing, Biss expressed one wish she had for this book: She hoped that all readers would walk away with more questions than answers.

“I would love for the reader to engage with the most challenging and most difficult questions that the book presents, and I think that among those are questions of identity,” she said gently. “I mean that in the most expansive, metaphysical sense possible. I mean that in a ‘what is the cost of being human?’ kind of way.”

Contact  at kayla@politicalfiber.com.

Photo contributed by KU Common Book Committee.

(I wrote this story as a student reporter for Political Fiber on Oct. 4, 2012. I’m posting it here to archive my work. Read the original publication on their website.)

‘Hunger Games’ themes mirror current political frustrations

By Kayla Overbey

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

‘Hunger Games’ Themes Mirror Current Political Frustrations

Then I remember Peeta’s words on the roof. “Only I keep wishing I could think of a way to…to show the Capitol they don’t own me. That I’m more than a piece in their games.” And for the first time, I understand what he means.

I want to do something, right here, right now, to shame them, to make them accountable, to show the Capitol that whatever they do or force us to do there is a part of every tribute they can’t own. That Rue was more than a piece in their Games. And so am I.

— “The Hunger Games” by Suzanne Collins

Millions of fans around the world have participated in the craze of  “The Hunger Games.” In the U.S. alone, 23.5 million books have sold since publication in 2008. The movie adaptation broke box office records, taking in $155 million its first opening weekend in North America, according to the New York Times.

“The Hunger Games,” a trilogy of novels by Suzanne Collins set in a post-apocalyptic America, were written for young-adults. However, the plot, which focuses on character Katniss Everdeen and her struggle to survive a gladiator-esque fight to the death against an authoritarian government, gained widespread popularity with a broader audience. As the story went viral, readers noticed political elements, some of which are comparable to the U.S. government.

The plot is fueled by themes of extreme poverty, violence as entertainment, gaping disparity between classes and imminent revolution. The government, known as the Capitol, exerts power with ruthless force by annually hosting the Hunger Games, a competition in which two teenagers from each of the 12 Districts compete.

The reward? Food, which is desperately needed by the starving lower districts but almost always ends up in wealthier hands.

The realistic tone and setting of the books has some readers wondering if such a government could actually exist. Aaron Pope, a University of Kansas junior from Topeka, said the books give an example of a government that has “thrown in the towel” and given up on its citizens.

“I feel like ‘The Hunger Games’ takes a look at what our society is now and amplifies it to a more extreme measure in order to show what we could become,” Pope said.

As for class disparity and poverty, Pope said the Capitol “is a government that recognizes this problem and deals with the situation by trying to act like there is no real problem.”

Cause for rebellion

In the books, the gap between economic classes is cause for a rebellion. The situation seems eerily familiar to the Occupy Wall Street movement, which inspired a string of revolts in 2011 and 2012. In the “Hunger Games,” the districts’ rebellion against the Capitol and the wealthy oppressors was successful because of the story’s heroine, Katniss Everdeen. However, the Occupy movement quickly lost its momentum. It’s this trust in the individual that Pope thinks is lacking in American political movements and elections. The passion behind the cause is what made Katniss’ revolution stick, said Pope.

“She didn’t make the easy decisions that won over ‘voters.’ She made the tough decision to stand up for what she believed in, and that belief inspired a nation,” Pope said.

The theme of control through fear has also received reactions from readers. The competitors in “The Hunger Games” are chosen against their will to fight to the death, as only one tribute may appear victorious. None of the districts rise against the Capitol in objection. Laurissa Marcotte, University of Kansas freshman from Hays, Kan., compared this to past military drafts and other government actions.

“The Capitol uses food and other necessities so that [the people] will put up with the Hunger Games,” she said.

Marcotte said the PATRIOT Act of 2001 and the Transportation Security Administration are similar examples of this overstretch of governmental power.

“Both of these violate privacy rights, but people were so fearful after 9/11 that they were willing to sacrifice that right for a sense of security,” Marcotte said.

The PATRIOT Act of 2001 and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) were both passed after 9/11, pushing the government toward greater measures of safety. The act and administration both allow government officials to monitor any private citizen’s activity and heighten travel security to prevent further terrorist attacks.

Entertaining the masses

The books have even raised questions about competitive reality television shows like “Survivor.” In the novel, the murder of teenagers for sport is celebrated and watched as nationwide entertainment with popularity levels rivaling those of the Olympics.

While some wonder whether U.S. entertainment could eventually accept violence casually, Janni Aragon, University of Victoria political scientist, believes that the comparison is more metaphorical than realistic.

“Do we see an interest in vapid reality TV and fewer people concerned with voting or real politics? In a sense, yes. Do we have people performing for the masses, losing any shred of decency while they try to gain popularity or fame? Yes,” Aragon said. “But are they competing to the death? No. Maybe the death of thoughtfulness, but that is a different conversation.”

While the comparisons may seem surprising, political themes are commonly found in dystopian and post-apocalyptic novels. Aragon explained that fiction acts as a safeguard for authors to express their political feelings without facing negativity.

“This is usually the point for the author to comment on politics in a way that is safer,” she said.

Some believe that the political themes of “The Hunger Games” will influence a youthful generation to feel negatively toward government, but that’s unlikely. Historically, novels like “1984,” “Brave New World,” “Battle Royale” and others have all had negative governmental undertones without strong repercussions.

Marcotte believes “The Hunger Games” will follow that trend.

“I’m not sure if I’d say the trilogy has really affected young adult perception of government,” said Marcotte. “I think dystopian fiction is popular because it’s exciting. They’re just a cool story for most young adults.”

Feature image illustration credit: Scholastic Inc./Flickr 

Donald Sutherland discusses his role as President Snow in the film adaptation of The Hunger Games and about how he hopes the story wakes up this generation of youth to their place in the political world.

Contact Kayla Overbey at kayla@politicalfiber.com.

(This story was published by Political Fiber on September 25, 2012. I’m posting it here to archive my work. You can read the original publication here.)

Political Poetry: Performances give KU student outlet for social commentary

By Kayla Overbey

Monday, September 24, 2012
Spoken word poetry, an alternative form of self-expression formed in the 1960s and popularized during the Civil Rights Movement, uses spoken performance to add emphasis to messages. Nadia Imafidon, a senior at the University of Kansas from Lawrence, Kan., was introduced to spoken word poetry at a black leadership symposium in high school. Imafidon started writing her own poetry in 2010 and has since performed at various poetry slams.

What is the atmosphere like during a spoken word poetry performance?

Usually in a situation where there’s a lot of heavy material, it’s silent. You can tell there are people in the audience crying. You can tell there are people in awe. There’s comical poetry as well, but even then it’s done to prove a point. There will be times when there’s shouting from the audience. It’s a really freeing atmosphere, I should say. It’s very open and no one really cares what they think of each other. That’s what I like about it. It’s a very judgment-free zone.

How does this poetry differ from other forms of self-expression like rap or creative writing?

I think the biggest difference is that it’s a situation where you have to be vulnerable in front of a lot of people. That’s a huge difference. A lot of people hate being vulnerable and hate sharing stories from their past and personal lives. That’s what spoken word poetry is about. It’s therapeutic in that way, but it’s also horrifying.

What attracts people to spoken word poetry?

I think the big factor is that spoken word poetry is a really good way of expressing yourself, but in a public manner. I think a lot of people are drawn to it because it’s kind of “hip.” A lot of people compare it to rap or hip-hop because it’s very similar. People might get involved in it because it’s fun to do and fun to listen to.

What should the audience interpret from a performance?

A lot of spoken word poetry is very direct and tells stories from the author’s point of view, but the audience shouldn’t think they know the poet’s life afterward. The slam environment is really about the interaction with the poet. So, if they say something that makes you want to cry, go ahead and cry. If they say something you agree with, or make some gesture to signify their beliefs, participate. It’s all interaction with the poet.

How can this form of expression affect today’s political situation?

I think spoken word poetry brings a lot of awareness. It’s just about delivering information to people. I think it can be effective in the collegiate level just because a lot of students respond to spoken word poetry. So a lot of poets will use political commentary to inform people and help make decisions. A lot of people want to vote, but they have no idea what the platforms are.  Spoken word poetry will get people interested in at least hearing something about the candidate and why they should vote.

Four Must-See Political Poetry Slams:

Wilkine Brutus:

Shane Koyczan:

Dan Halloway:

Team Hawai’i:

(This was posted on the Political Fiber website on September 24, 2012. I’m posting it here to archive my work as a journalist and student writer. Visit the original publication here.)