Freshman finds outlet in slam

Freshman finds outlet in slam

By Rebekah Frank


EWU freshman Janessa Williams found her talent in something she thought she hated.

Williams has been writing poems and competing in many areas across the U.S. including Seattle, Spokane and Chicago.

She has performed at EWU at open mic nights and for the BSU violence awareness candle lighting. Eastern asked Williams to open for a slam poetry team that is coming to perform on campus.

As a junior in high school, Williams was in English class when her teacher began the poetry section. Williams said she already had an “A” in the class, so she skipped all the assignments until the last one.

“I didn’t write poetry back then. I thought it was stupid,” said Williams

When her teacher announced that the class was to write a poem, memorize it and present it to the class, Williams decided she would do it. According to Williams, she wrote the poem the day before it was due and memorized it on the bus.

“I slammed in my class and I won,” said Williams.

Williams said her family is all very artistic on her Dad’s side. Her brother, sister and father all play numerous instruments or sing, and her father used to draw comic books and sell them. Williams said she could not do any of those things and felt a little out of place, until she found her artistic tools were a pencil and paper.

“When I first started writing and really got into poetry it was like a release, I guess for me.

When Williams came to EWU, she performed at some open mic nights. Her talent grew, and so did her joy for poetry as she began competing more.

Williams competed at the Get Lit! Festival on April 7-13 and placed third. She also travelled to Seattle where she competed at the Youth Speaks competition. Youth Speaks is a nationwide competition that encompasses the importance of being able to write and voice students’ individuality.

“We are urgently driven by the belief that literacy is a need, not a want, and that literacy comes in various forms. We believe it is crucial to provide spaces where youth can undergo a process of personal growth and transformation in a program that enriches their educational, professional, artistic and leadership skills,” said the Youth Speaks website.

Williams won the Youth Speaks competition in Seattle last year and qualified to go to the Grand Slam where she also finished first. Williams was invited to go to Chicago to compete at the Brave New Voices competition. This competition, according to the website, is a poetry festival as well. According to Williams, people from all over the world come to compete and learn.

“Best known as a festival, Brave New Voices is a growing network of over 70 organizations. Brave New Voices is committed to building safe spaces that challenge young people to develop and present the power of their voices,” said the Brave New Voices Website.

Williams said she enjoyed writing the poems and did not expect to win. She just wrote what she felt and people ended up liking it.

“It is about what’s in your heart and what you have to say and what you want people to learn about you. And sometimes when you talk about yourself and what’s in your heart, you can speak to someone else’s life as well and that’s what poetry should be about. That’s how it used to be for me. I wasn’t writing for the slam, I was writing for me and I just ended up slamming my poems,” said Williams.

Williams competed in the Youth Speaks this year as well, but did not win. She said she was more focused on what the judges wanted to hear, rather than just writing from her heart.

“I lost the heart of what poetry is,” said Williams.

Williams wants to focus her poetry back on her own feelings and not worry so much about how other people will feel or react to them. She said, in two of the poems, she wrote about a painful time in her mom’s life and her experience growing up with her mom. Both poems were very personal and emotional to her.

“There was this part where I could feel the pain of what happened to my mom. I could feel it when I was speaking and I was getting upset and you could hear it in my voice. … There was a point in the poem when I just started crying. … I practiced for two weeks straight and didn’t cry once, and when I got on stage, the emotions came running and I started crying,” said Williams.

Williams said her feelings for poetry have definitely changed since she was in high school. She has found an intimacy within writing and a way to express herself.

“I think I just found the beauty in it besides just roses are red, violets are blue, … poetry is bigger than that,” said Williams.