UNL student discovers new way to share her love of poetry

It began with the lure of extra credit. It wasn’t that Tiana Rasmussen, a sophomore education major at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, disliked the idea of trying slam poetry; she’d just never been really pushed to do so.

But during a poetry writing class last semester, she wrote a poem that caused the entire class to encourage her performance at the upcoming slam competition. The professor even tried to persuade by offering extra credit.

“They were like ‘Oh my goodness you have to perform that at the slam; that’s so great,’” Rasmussen said.

Although it would be her first slam, it wouldn’t be Rasmussen’s first performance. She has competed in speech for six years – throughout high school and her two years at UNL. Rasmussen competed on the UNL Speech and Debate team that won the Big Ten Conference Challenge Tournament. During that competition, she performed in point finals individually.

Poetry is one of Rasmussen’s regular speech events; it involves performing several poems revolving around a topic to make an argument. Because of this event she was already headed toward slam. But she didn’t get there alone. Friend and speech teammate Becca Human encouraged her, along with the class, to pursue slam.

“She’s a performer by nature,” Human said. “So it wasn’t too hard to persuade her.”

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Slam poetry is a competition where poems are read aloud without added props. At the college level, there is a national competition called the College Unions Poetry Slam Invitational, or CUPIS. In the last few years UNL has created a team to compete at this invitational.

Rasmussen competed in her first slam, which also happened to be the slam that determined who would be on this year’s national team. She read the poem she had written for class and one other she had written the day of. She said she didn’t think it would be a big deal; she wouldn’t even make it past the first round. And then she did. She passed the second round as well, and that put her in the top five, qualifying for UNL’s team.

“That doesn’t usually happen,” said Stacey Waite, one of the two coaches for the slam team. “You’ve got kids who try every year to get on the team.”

Waite explained that most team meetings revolve around writing and practice, especially in the beginning of the year. They are now in preparation for the CUPIS, which begins April 12 in Chicago, Illinois.

“We just meet every week and write poems together,” Rasmussen said. “And it’s awesome. I love them.”

Rasmussen has been writing poetry her whole life. Writing allows her to explore her own ideas about world, gender and social issues. It, along with speech and slam, is a part of who she is.

“You know, some people have things that they need to do in order to survive, like for some people that’s athletics,” she said.  “That is not me. But for some people that’s their thing; they just need to get out to the basketball court and shoot some hoops to blow off steam and to move on. Everybody has those things, and for me that’s writing and performing and using my voice.”

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