Spitfire Launches into Success

Photo by Carmen Pullella '16 | Carmen Pullella ‘16, Isabel Benincasa Reade ‘17, Yolandi Cruz ‘16 (coach), Elena Karlsen-Ayala ‘16, and Marney Rathbun ‘16

Photo by Carmen Pullella ’16 | Carmen Pullella ‘16, Isabel Benincasa Reade ‘17, Yolandi Cruz ‘16 (coach), Elena Karlsen-Ayala ‘16, and Marney Rathbun ‘16

Sarah Robbins ’17
Contributing Writer

Yolandi Cruz ‘16, Catie Cain ‘16, Marney Rathbun ‘16, and Anna Beatty ‘16 all have something in common. Not only are they all sophomores, but they have also launched Spitfire, Smith College’s first official slam poetry club. The only student-run organization comparable to this is Weaving Voices, which hosts open mics for students, especially students of color, to discuss social and political struggles. In contrast, Spitfire focuses specifically on slam poets and all topics of poetry and allows poets to compete against each other. They recently hosted their first slam on Sunday, Nov. 17, to decide which four slammers will go to CUPSI, the College Unions Poetry Slam Invitational located at the University of Colorado.

It’s all very exciting for a club that was chartered just last semester, and the four women running it could not be more excited. At the forefront of the infant organization is Cruz, the founder and co-chair of Spitfire, who came into Smith determined to fashion a slam poetry organization for all students interested in spoken word. No stranger to slam poetry, Cruz had already published two anthologies before beginning college. Next in line comes Beatty, co-chair of Spitfire; Cain, the Social Justice and Equity Representative; and Rathbun, the Social Chair Representative. These four worked together as first-years to get Spitfire off the ground, and Smith finally rewarded them last semester with a charter, meaning they receive an official budget. This budget allows them to do things like host open mics, compete nationally and, most importantly, showcase the incredible poets Smith has to offer.

The women are thrilled with how many members Spitfire gained within just the first few weeks. “It was discouraging when it was just the four of us,” said Rathbun of the previous year. Now they hold meetings with a regular attendance of twenty or more people. “I just come out so inspired,” said Cain, “I feel refreshed to hear all those voices.” According to Cain, they use the meetings to watch people slam, write poems and practice reading their work in front of others.

When asked why they decided to create Spitfire, the answer was uniform: making poetry accessible to everyone.

“We wanted to create a space that was for anybody,” said Cain, “to engage with students more outside Weaving Voices.”

With their most recent slam hosted by the Campus Center, it seems Spitfire has accomplished just that. There, poets performed their work in front of their peers and received scores from judges to decide who will go to CUPSI. Spitfire will fly the slammers over to Colorado, where they will miss four days of school to spend time slamming and watching others slam. Intense is the only accurate way to describe it. Carmen Pullela ’16, Rathbun, Elena Karlsen-Ayala ’16, and Isabel Benincasa Reade ’17 won the slam and will be travlling West with Cruz as their coach.

It’s surprising that a school with as many diverse voices and as immersed in the arts as Smith would have gone so long without a club like Spitfire. Poets now have a safe space to practice their art, receive edits from peers and compete against poets from all over the world.

What Spitfire stresses most, though, is the confidentiality of writers and their work. They have a list of rules and guidelines for poets listening and responding to work, including not talking over others, confidentiality of the room, not assuming any work by the poet is about the poet, and my favorite, “don’t yuck somebody’s yum” – meaning not to judge someone for their tastes. All of these center on poets feeling comfortable.

For those not interested in slamming, Spitfire makes it clear that there are plenty of ways to get involved, such as simply coming to meetings and working on drafts of pieces. Essentially, all are welcome. Spitfire has called to the poets, and the poets have answered.

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