In the second round of Virtualandia, a youth poetry slam competition, Jordan Wolmut overcame the distance that comes from performing for a virtual audience and spoke with authority directly to the judges.
“This poem doesn’t deserve all 10s, but all 20s” said Wolmut during her performance of “Trigger Warning.”
Soon after, she was named Virtualandia champion.
After canceling Verslandia in 2020, the organizer of the event, Literary Arts, launched Virtualandia, a virtual version of the competition.
Eligible Portland high school students submitted video performances of their original poems. The top ten finalists performed on Thursday and a panel of judges scored each performance on a scale of one to ten.
Wolmut’s bold performance questioned the expectations of slam poetry while also excelling at them. Wolmut, a student at Benson High, is also the 2019 champion.
The poems throughout the event touched on police brutality, grief, suicide, sophisticated analogies of lost friendships and threatened freedoms.
During the event, there was a chat thread for viewers to share their thoughts and support. One of the most consistently used words to describe the performances was “powerful.”
Over the last month, Literary Arts hosted free workshops and feedback sessions for interested poets. At one of these events, slam coach and workshop facilitator Jacque Dixon explained the basics of slam to the attendees.
“It’s like poetry with flavor,” Dixon said. “It’s expressing yourself in spoken word, and sometimes engaging in elements of rhythm and elements of theatre.”
Oregon poet laureate Anis Mojgani hosted the competition.
“It’s essentially a trick to get people excited to write poems and share them to those people that are excited to listen to poems,” Mojgani said.
Portland public schools librarians started Verslandia and Literary Arts joined the event in 2012. Through thoughtful planning, they were able to continue their mission of providing a platform for local students and poets to showcase their talent.
In the opening remarks, the Executive Director of Literary Arts Andrew Proctor said, “In the act of listening we let these young people know, their voice matters.”
These courageous performances prove, not only should we be listening, but we should probably be taking notes.
Literary Arts managed to execute a safe competition free of technological hiccups that have affected other virtual events. This success is not only due to the organizers’ careful redesign of the event, but also to the poets who ultimately set the tone of the night.
Literary Arts has a library of informative and educational videos on their YouTube page for those interested in learning more about slam poetry.