Writing about poetry performance in prose is an endeavor bound to fall short. And when the deliveries are as expressive as those given by the Songline Slam poets at their “Newbie Arch” last Friday, the challenge becomes all the more daunting.
The virtual gathering began in typical Zoom fashion — that is to say, with a brief hiccup of internet connection issues — but soon transformed into an experience far different from our daily Zoom meetings and classes.
At the beginning of each academic year, new members of Songline Slam give their debut performances beneath one of the University’s stone arches. This particular “arch” (conducted via Zoom, for obvious reasons) spotlighted five newcomers: Maya Eashwaran ’21, Rooya Rahin ’23, Akhila Bandlora ’24, Katrina Nix ’24, and Collin Riggins ’24.
Rahin is an Assistant News Editor at The Daily Princetonian, and Riggins is a contributing columnist.
For much of the performance, the audience listened to the talented students’ rhythmic musings, with a couple veteran members stepping in to share pieces of their own. As an audience member, it was difficult to tell which poets were experienced “slammers” and which were novices, a testament to the new members’ capabilities. The performances’ enrapturing quality became all the more impressive, considering the poets performed not beneath a historic archway, but rather from their bedrooms.
The poetic ground that we collectively traversed was jarring (“Rip its skin apart like wild dogs to excavate its origins” –Bandlora), angry, hopeful (“a small bright giggle from somewhere deep within the grass” –Rahin), fantastical, romantic, and even hilarious (Songline Artistic Director Hannah Wang’s poem, a parody inspired by rapper Machine Gun Kelly, had us in a state of shocked mirth).
Wang is a senior reporter for the ‘Prince.’
In spite of physical distance, the event brought spectators and performers together to appreciate the poets’ dazzling, tumultuous, and vulnerable linguistic sequences.
That Songline executed the event so well online gave a great deal of hope.
As the pandemic continues to upend our lives, moments of profound human connection have become difficult to find (and understandably so). As an audience member, I felt I was in the same room with others, sharing the same experience for one of the first times since the pandemic began.
Although only one performer had their camera on at any given time, the uplifting and appreciative comments from listeners flooding the chat made it clear that the audience members were present and deeply impacted. Many attendees professed experiencing goosebumps and shedding tears, allowing the poets (and other audience members) to “see” the responses being evoked.
I had the opportunity to speak with first-year “newbie” Katrina Nix, who delivered a poignant piece titled “10 Things You Should Know About Being Black Abroad.” She affirmed that the audience’s warm welcomes broke through the semester’s electronic chill: “I really like everyone on the team. They’ve been very welcoming and very excited to have all of us newbies to be a part of the club.”
When asked about the experience of beginning Princeton online, Nix acknowledged, “it’s been harder to make large-scale connections,” but joining clubs such as Songline has enabled her to feel more connected to the University community.
Songline’s website says its members “probably want to be your friend.” That sense of camaraderie was apparent in this brief virtual show. In time, this group — as well as countless others — will be reunited to convey and experience friendship face to face.
Until then, shared experiences like this performance offer valuable opportunities to keep our community afloat.