Verbal Blend unites words and performance

The spoken word program encourages SU student poets to think, write and share original works.

Every week, for six weeks, a group of students gathered in the main lounge of Boland Hall, formed a circle and began to talk. They talked about anything — self-image, relationships, school, politics, social issues, life. Then, they used their spoken thoughts and crafted them into poems.

The students belong to Verbal Blend, a spoken word program at Syracuse University created in 2007 by Cedric Bolton, coordinator of student engagement in the Office of Multicultural Affairs. Bolton modeled Verbal Blend after Voices Merging, a program he started when he lived in Minneapolis, to build students’ confidence in writing and performing poetry.

Photo: Noelia de la Cruz

Snap to it

Learn why Verbal Blend members prefer not to clap, plus photo highlights from the past year and history of spoken word.

Verbal Blend members frequently participate in activities on campus and in the community. They host open mics and slam competitions, collaborate with student groups by performing at events and help younger students in Syracuse city schools by conducting workshops. However,the most essential part of the program lies in the small, intimate workshops the poets attend each week.

When Bolton leads them two nights of the week during the semester, he brings a prompt to lead the conversation and stimulate the writing process, whether it be a topic from the day’s news, a famous poet’s work or a feeling or experience the students can relate to. The workshops allow students to discuss, write and share with their peers in a comfortable environment.

Michelle Tarshus, resident advisor to the poets' learning community on the fifth floor of Boland Hall, started a Sunday workshop similar to that of the ones Bolton leads to accommodate her residents who have busy schedules during the week. Though not all residents on the floor belong to the learning community or Verbal Blend, she said many of the other residents also attend to support the group.

Amanda Fox-Rouch, a freshman communication and rhetorical studies major who lives on the floor, said the discussions are her favorite part of the workshop.

“The discussions influence my poetry — just hearing everybody else’s input and opinions on what we’re talking about gives me a wider perspective on what I should write about,” she said.

Tyler Rice, president of the group’s newly formed executive board, describes Verbal Blend as a community of people who want a place to express themselves without judgment.

For Rice, the time he spends writing in the workshops leads to other rewards. A portion of the workshop is reserved for free-write, which allows the poets to take the ideas they’ve discussed and thought about and turn them into poems. “Sometimes [the poem] will make no sense at all, but sometimes it’ll be the start to a really great piece,” said Rice, a sophomore marketing major.

In the first workshop of last semester, Rice began a poem he performed at last semester’s slam competition. He won second place. Many refer to the untitled poem about the plight of the young, urban male as the “Click-clack” poem, Rice said.

Osar Pat-Osagie is one of Verbal Blend’s newest members; he started attending workshops this semester. Though he doesn’t live on the learning community floor, he lives in Boland Hall and often makes it to the Sunday workshops in addition to the ones Bolton holds during the week. “Verbal Blend is one of the most welcoming environments on campus,” he said. “Everyone’s friendly there, and they’re educated — they’re educated, and they’re educating, so they teach you something,” he said.

After Tarshus wrapped up the last workshop of the semester, she reflected with some of her residents. She expressed immense satisfaction with the group's ability to come together and discuss ideas to write inspiring poetry. Though the workshops often last longer than the slated two hours, Tarshus said the results are worthwhile. “The way that we can pull it all together and engage and interact with each other on such an intellectual level, that’s such a beautiful thing,” she said. “I can’t even put into words how happy that makes me.”

As president, Rice hopes to expand the program next year to more people in the community. “Verbal Blend is for everybody," he said. "Some people think ‘Those are just spoken word artists,’ and some people get intimidated because some of the poets are really good. But they don’t start off that way, that’s the thing, and people just see the finished product. They don’t see the workshops, they don’t see what goes behind making the piece so snapworthy."

His advice to the SU community?

“Just come, and share, because everyone has a message. Everyone has a message.”

This. Is. Awesome.

This. Is. Awesome.

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