Speaking with SPEAK

An Interview with University of Minnesota Slam Poet Juliana Q

Illustrator: Katee Meindl

SPEAK Poetry, formerly known as USlam, is the University of Minnesota’s Slam Poetry Organization. SPEAK Poetry hosts regular poetry slams, or three-minute performances of competitive poetry, judged by five volunteers from the audience. Each poet performs twice and is judged on a scale of 0.0 to 10.0. The top scorers qualify to participate in the grand slam in December, leading to the ability to join the team that will advance to the College Unions Poetry Slam Invitational, a poetry slam featuring colleges nationwide. In conjunction with the September Edition of the SPEAK Poetry Slam Series, we spoke with University of Minnesota student, SPEAK Poetry President, and slam poet Juliana Q.

Jamie Rohlfing: Why did you decide to start performing slam poetry?

Juliana Q: I was writing poetry ever since I was a tiny, little one, full of angst and dramatics. My first year of college (I am a fourth year now), I was talking to someone on the light rail actually and they said, “Hey have you gone to the slam poetry group?” And I’m like, “What’s a ‘slam poetry’? That’s a poem, I like that.” I looked it up—I Googled “What is slam poetry”—the day before a slam, wrote something, and went to (at the time it was called USlam) and went to one of USlam’s events, and then I performed. And it was great. I loved it, and I fell in love with the community. And now I am the president.

How long have you been writing and performing?

I have been writing since I was really little, I’d say first grade. I’ve been writing for a long time. I have been performing for I guess it would be about four years.

How did you feel leading up to your first performance?

I kept thinking “Man, was my one Google search on ‘what is slam’ correct?” I remember I had never really listened to slam poetry before coming to this event and everyone had a very different style of poetry than me. I was doing very lineated poetry and very traditional, I guess. I remember the feature of the slam I went to said, “Hey you’re doing lineated poetry, I can hear your line breaks which is cool and doesn’t happen much in slam,” and I was like “Oh wow, you can hear that difference.” I quickly learned that there is so much more to slam than I could have learned from one Google search. I grew to love it, and change and transform with the community.

How do you feel now when you perform?

I feel like I am a decent performer now. I know that I love the community and the feel of the community and I feel like I belong, so then that makes me really excited to get on stage and share my story with everyone.

Do you have any rituals or a create process that you follow before events?

I write so much of my poetry right after attending a slam or another poetry event just because I get so inspired. But also I just write when I do and perform when it feels I am capable of it. I just go with the flow. The slam community feels like a very safe space so I don’t really have to think too much about things, I just jump in.

What do you think it takes to become a slam poet?

I don’t think it really takes anything. We try to be very welcoming and open to anyone if you can write and you have a voice to speak with, or even not, there is ASL poetry, you don’t even need a voice, screw that. If you have things you want to write about and you want to perform for others, then you are a part of the community.

Feeling moved to do some poetic justice yourself? Join the SPEAK Poetry student group and find them on Facebook for more information, upcoming involvement opportunities, and events.