Despite the constraints that come with social distancing, Pacific still participated in the annual America’s Best College Poet Preliminary Competition on October 2nd by hosting a virtual competition. The competition, hosted by nationally-renowned slam poet Ebony Stewart, saw four courageous Pacific undergraduate poets present their work in hopes of advancing to the next round of the competition for the chance to compete with poets from other universities and win $1500. By the end of the competition, junior Kyla Wilson and Senior Amanda Guentensperger advanced to the next round of the competition.
Wilson, who has been an ardent poetry reader since youth, said “It was a big, big part of my childhood. It’s something I’ve always had a connection to.” She has been doing slam poetry competitions since high school and has participated in several over her 3 years at Pacific.
When asked what her poem was about, Wilson smiled slightly and glanced up at the ceiling, as if looking for the correct words. Finally, she looked back down and said bluntly, “My poem was about wanting to die,” explaining that writing the poem came from a place of working through mental health issues and suicidal ideation. She went on, “My poem was kind of dealing with the way you spend so much time wanting to be dead that you actually start to feel dead.” Wilson explained that the themes mentioned in her work have driven her poetry and fiction since she began writing poetry in high school. The inspiration for these types of works can strike at any time for her. “I think I woke up in the middle of the night and started it,” Wilson said, “That happens sometimes. I’ll wake up in the middle of the night and have to write something down.”
Guentensperger, however, is newer to the competitive scene in poetry. “I have been writing poetry since about the sixth grade,” said Guentensperger, going on to detail her extensive past experience with fiction and poetry, “[but] this was actually my first competition.” She explained that she experiences mild stage fright when reading her work in front of crowds, but that she felt that this was the perfect opportunity to make her work known to others. “I [knew] that I needed to get out there and put some stuff out there, but I was really postponing it,” Wilson said, “But one night, I heard someone mention it and just said ‘Okay’”
Her poem, like Wilson’s, was built around mental health. “The poem I did for the competition was called ‘Good Intentions’,” said Guentensperger, “It was about growing up with an abusive parent and the switching between happiness and [sudden] darkness.”
With their extremely raw and powerful poems, Wilson and Guentensperger both advanced from the Pacific preliminary round to the semi-final round where they competed with poets from 11 other universities from across the country. The competition was judged by acclaimed slam poets Ebony Stewart, Ashlee Haze, Katie Kramer, Carlos Robson, and Carlos Andrés Gómez. While neither Wilson nor Guentensperger advanced to the semi-final round, they both had the opportunity to share their unique and extraordinary stories through their poems with other artists from around the country: an opportunity that only comes around once a year for a select number of students nationwide. — Isabelle Williams