York’s Poetry Slam Night Brings in a New Creative Crowd

Irshaad Ishmail performing at York College's Poetry Slam (Trone Dowd)
Irshaad Ishmail performing at York College’s Poetry Slam (Trone Dowd)

Pi Eta Kappa, York’s Academic Fraternity and Honors Society, held an open mic on April 28 for short stories and poetry in the faculty dining room, coincidentally just in time for national poetry month.
          Sponsored by The Male Initiative Program, the open mic event was an intimate display of the power of writing and storytelling. The running theme chosen for the event was “An Unexpected Twist.” Participants and spectators alike sat together which created a sense of comradery and closeness instead of the sense of separation between listeners and performers.
          One of the stand out performances of the afternoon was from the poet “The Messenger.” She blew listeners away with her explosive, melodic and meaningful hip hop style all while touching on social justice like racism.
          Another performer, English Professor Nathan Austin, used a unique method of translation called Google sculpting to create brand new poems. The final product is poetry loosely based on classics written in ancient languages like latin and old chinese.
          “I don’t speak or read Latin, so I’m not necessarily translating directly,” Austin said. “Instead I’m using translation software to play around with the idea of translation.”
          Austin used ancient poet Catullus’ poem titled “Number 48.”
          “The original poem is really short, no longer than four lines long,” he said. “It’s basically a really straight forward love poem about how much the author really like kissing this sweet girl. So with this one, what I did was take the poem’s chinese translation and ran each line at a time through google. From there I took the different results I got from there, which were different chinese lines and phrases, ran those through google translate, get stuff back and build a poem out of that.”
          Austin said that while the method isn’t widely used, it is a great way to be creative with older works.
          The open mic was the brainchild of 19-year-old English major Irshaad Ishmail, who also hosted the event. Ishmail says the idea actually stemmed from an event that took place last October at the Jamaica Arts Center called “Voices of Queens: The Art of Storytelling.” English Professor Mychel Namphy recommended Ishmail attend, which in turn inspired him to want to bring something similar to York.
          “Professor Rishi [Nath] was actually trying to get something like this going as well,” said Ishmail. “I thought to myself if there’s a Voices of Queens, why don’t we get a little more specific and have a Voices of York College? From there, with Professor [Jonathan] Quash’s help I was able to do just that.”
          Ishmail explained passionately the love that writers tend to have for the craft.
          “I love poetry and creative writing,” Ishmail said. “English and literature is a major where there’s certain heat and passion that goes into it more so than any other major. We are in it because we love it.
          Ishmail said that he went into the event fairly new to hosting something like this. “I went up to Professor Austin, who has a PhD in poetics and has been to many of these events, and I asked him ‘what do I do as a host?’ He told me, get up there, introduce the poet, and get out of the way. It’s about them.” Overall,  Ishmail was very pleased with how the event turned out.
          Although he didn’t perform this time around, Ishmail promised that this would not be the case next time. “This event is about them,” Ishmail said referring to the performers. “I thought to myself lets get everybody else in here. But next time for sure i’m getting into it. I want to participate. I love poetry and I do short writing as well.”
          Professor Jonathan Quash, director of Pi Eta Kappa, was very pleased with the event.
          “I thought that the people that participated did a great job,” Quash said adding “I was very pleased with the turnout. I think that the students who got a chance to listen in did an awesome job supporting them and I hope that they enjoyed it.”
          Quash hopes that the poetry slam will become a monthly event on campus.
          “I think that it would be nice to do it every month and give people a chance to warm up to it,” Quash said. “I know there were a few students who wanted to but were kind of scared to take part. So as we gear up towards making the event more frequent. I hope that that will change.”

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