Poetry as Performance: Temple’s Babel Poetry Collective
by Jasmine Combs
I'm 22 years old, from West Philadelphia and majored in English with a poetry concentration. I write poetry for both the page and the stage, which means I can read my page poetry aloud and still keep an audience's attention, and I can also put a spoken word piece in my manuscript because the poetry in it still holds up on the page.
For me, performance is my way of connecting with other people, and how I feel while performing varies depending on the poem and the audience. We call it an energy exchange. By performing a poem, the poet is giving the audience energy and the energy that the audience gives back to them has a direct effect on the poet and the performance. For example, if I'm performing a poem about racism, the energy a predominantly black crowd gives me is not going to be the same as the energy a predominantly white crowd will give.
For someone who thinks poetry is never a performance art, I would say just because they do not know how to marry the two, doesn't mean it can't be done.
That’s why I joined Temple’s Babel Poetry Collective.
Babel Poetry Collective is Temple University's only performance poetry ensamble, founded in 2008 by student Malcolm Kenyatta. After taking Poetry as Performance, a theater class taught by the renowned poet and playwright Dr. Kimmika Williams-Witherspoon, Kenyatta and nine of his classmates founded this group as a continuation of the class. This student organization has grown exponentially since then. Today, Babel is an audition-based performance collective made up of poets, rappers, vocalists and instrumentalists that produces two showcases a semester and performs for various events on-campus, across the city, and at other universities.
Philadelphia is a great place to be a poet because we have an amazing and supportive literary scene. There are so many organizations dedicated to fostering poets from the youth to college and beyond and all of the organizations work together and support each other, overlapping and collaborating on different events and projects.
Babel’s main production each semester, Babylon, is a dynamic showcase of the collective’s best work, curated and directed by Babel’s artistic director. In the spring, their second production is either a smaller collective showcase or a collaborative show with Babel’s sister-org, D2D Dance Company, where poetry and dance come together. In 2014, the collective turned their secondary fall show into a university-wide poetry slam in which the top five poets go on to represent Temple University in the College Union Poetry Slam Invitational (CUPSI).
CUPSI is an annual poetry slam tournament put on by the Association of College Unions International (ACUI) in which teams of four or five students from different colleges and universities, across the nation and abroad, compete against each other until one team is crowned the champion. This year was Temple's second year competing at CUPSI and out of 68 teams, Babel brought home the championship! The 2016 Temple University CUPSI team was not only comprised of some of Babel’s leading members, but also students from Temple’s College of Liberal Arts.
As my first and last year competing in CUPSI, I definitely could not have had a better experience. Winning the entire tournament was, of course, amazing and I still can’t believe it happened but, more importantly, I’m glad I got to experience this with people I consider family.
The best thing about Babel is that we really are like a family.
Allow me to introduce you to Babel's CUPSI Team:
- Kai Davis recently received a dual degree in English and African American studies, achieving the highest GPA in her African American studies 2016 graduating class. Kai also has been Babel’s artistic director for all four years of her college career and has been integral to Babel’s growth as an organization.
- Nayo Jones is junior African American studies student and is truly a devoted scholar in this field. She is a poet as well as Babel’s resident vocalist. In the fall, Nayo will be entering her second term as president of Babel Poetry Collective.
- Nick Stanovick recently received his degree in English with a focus in creative writing, graduating summa cum laude this May. After only one year in Babel, he was elected vice president. Unlike most Babel members, Nick had never performed poetry before auditioning for Babel, but he quickly became one of the collective’s best writers and performers.
- Jamal Parker, the youngest member of the team, is a sophomore majoring in African American studies and will replace Kai as Babel’s artistic director in the upcoming school year. CUPSI is Jamal’s second national championship as he was also on the 2015 Philadelphia Youth Poetry Movement (PYPM) team that won the national youth poetry slam Brave New Voices.
- The coach for this year’s team was Temple alumna Miriam Harris, who received her BA in English in 2015 and served as Babel’s president for two years. Miriam has been a major part of the organization’s growth and the center of Babel’s family-like structure.
Babel holds auditions every fall semester (and sometimes in the spring). We also do writing and performance workshops throughout the semester. You can follow us on all social media @babelsback or check out our website (babelpoetrycollective.weebly.com) for updates on when and where those will be. I would suggest if someone auditions for Babel and does not get in or doesn't feel ready to audition yet, come to our workshops and get a feel for the collective then re-audition next time. I auditioned three times before I got in, there's no shame in it and it's so worth it if you finally do get it.
Jasmine Combs is a 2016 Temple graduate who received her degree in English with a focus in creative writing. Jasmine served as Babel’s events coordinator. She has been an active member of the literary community on campus as creative editor of Hyphen, Temple’s undergraduate literary and arts magazine.