by CAMERON BOLON
On Friday, Sept. 27 slam poet Carlos Robson came to Mars Café to perform. Robson is a two-time national slam poetry champion and has been performing for fifteen years. Drake University Spoken Word poet Sarah Rosales preceded Robson’s performance.
Robson was a dance and choreography minor in college. He explained that he was inspired to do spoken word poetry by a class he took.
“I was taking a hip-hop dance class… We were given an assignment to write a rap or poem that we would perform a cappella, and I waited until the very last night before the assignment was due because I didn’t know what I was going to do,” Robson said. “I ended up writing a spoken word piece about how I didn’t know what to talk about, and the other students in the class really liked it.”
Robson explained that he was encouraged to do open mics and compete in slams by another student in the class. “The guy who was in charge of all the slams in Charlotte, North Carolina where I lived, he’s become my mentor and one of my best friends, and we have the same manager and the same agent, we tour together,” Robson said.
One of the people who attended the event was senior Deanna Krikorian. She said the show was really good, and that both Rosales and Robson did well in the way that they performed their poetry. Krikorian said there was an added element with the way that they performed it.
“I wasn’t expecting so much interaction with Carlos. I didn’t know that’s how it went,” Krikorian said. “He read his first piece, and then he was just like talking to us back and forth, and people could ask him questions in the middle of the show, and he would answer them and tell stories. I didn’t know that it would be that interactive, I guess. I hadn’t expected that, but I really liked it.”
Robson said his interacting with his audience stems from how he was once a college student who would go to spoken word shows on campus; he remembered the feeling of being in class all day where people talked at him and going up to a show where someone was talking at him. Robson wanted to make sure that students feel free to share ideas and have questions. He also wanted to interact with the audience not just because he wanted them to feel at home, but because he’s been traveling by himself all day and likes connecting with people.
Another thing that Krikorian liked about the show was how Robson and Rosales touched on important topics to society as a whole in a way that felt honest and true to their experience, not as though they were writing about it just to write about it. Rosales’ poetry included topics involving racism and white privilege (especially on campus), her queer identity, gun violence, America and abortion.
Robson’s performance began lightheartedly enough, starting with a poem about being Generation X and a humorous anecdote about how he learned he had to fly back to Charlotte, North Carolina at the same airport and airline as US Airways Flight 1549. Robson later dove into more serious topics, such as a poem about the death of Trayvon Martin.
“I just wanted to make sure that everybody knew that this was just an expressive thing that I made and that it wasn’t a solution to a political problem. I wasn’t trying to solve racism. The poem is a persona poem, meaning that I’m speaking in character, as someone who really lived,” Robson said. “And I would never want anybody to think that what I was saying actually intended for that person to feel. For me personally, it was just a thing that I had to write to feel better and I don’t want people to come up to me and say ‘When you put these words in this person’s mouth or when you made this person tell their mother XYZ.’ To me, that’s not the point of the poem. It’s a cathartic way of working my way through some emotions.”
Robson said he’s not trying to write over anyone’s head and doesn’t like writing in heavy metaphor. Nor does he consider himself a poet, but rather a storyteller or an entertainer who just so happens to talk about serious subjects. Which leads to the question of what stories does he tell: his own, or others’?
“I think all of the above. So, for instance, that last poem, most people would not consider it a story. But I think of it as sort of a sociopolitical snapshot of all the things that are going on right now, and when I put the things in order, it feels like a story,” Robson said. “But some things are not [personal]. Some things are political. But they always have a beginning, middle, and end and that’s really what I think that is what my strong suit is. Explain or storify a subject, an idea.”