Student poets spit verse at SFU’s inaugural Grand Poetry Slam

ESU president Hussan Riasat’s poem concerned the devaluation of words.

The English Student Union (ESU) held their first annual Grand Poetry Slam on Thursday, November 13 at Highland Pub on SFU’s Burnaby campus.

The upper level of the pub was filled at the event’s beginning, with a group of about 25 sticking around until its end, including the entire ESU executive committee.

The event featured more than 10 poets from English, sociology, French, communications, and business departments. Some were very expressive, some reserved, and many presented two or more poems.

Hussan Riasat, ESU president, said, “I wasn’t expecting this many people, and I wasn’t expecting this many people to actually be really enthusiastic about it.”

The event featured many different types of creative writing, including more traditional forms of rhyming poetry, prose-based, and abstract poems, and at least three that were admittedly composed either on the same day or at the event itself.

The atmosphere was receptive and respectful, with supportive ESU members sitting at the front of the audience, leading applause and supportive snaps. The group told the audience to snap their fingers rather than remain silent, if a speaker lost their place in their piece — luckily, this save was only needed once.

“We couldn’t have expected the amazing poets that came out today,” Sophia Katherina, ESU events coordinator, told the audience near the end of the event.

The group had originally planned to give out t-shirt prizes to poets chosen by audience members or the ESU, but were so “absolutely impressed with everyone,” according to Katherina, that every poet was entered into a random draw to win the prizes. Three poets took home luxurious ESU t-shirts, along with the pride of being selected randomly.

Vincent Mitra, who volunteered to read his writing after coming to the event, said he saw the evening as an opportunity to talk to like-minded people. “I think English can be a very solitary thing,” he said, explaining that writing “isn’t necessarily a group activity,” and that he was glad to see an event like this make it so. Readings like this, he said, “I imagine, are one of the only ways we can connect.”

Riasat said he hopes the poetry slam becomes something that the larger SFU community can bond over, not just those in the English department. “We’re trying to change things around” in the ESU, he said, “and we made the event open for that reason.”

He hopes that poetry can become part of a tradition at SFU, like the Fall Kickoff or Spring Sendoff.

“If writing poetry can be a bonding point, something that people from any department see as a means to go out, meet people, and have fun, [. . .], then [the event] can grow,” Riasat concluded.