MARSHALL - Southwest Minnesota State University student Nick White doesn't usually write "happy"?poetry, but his words have a powerful message behind them.
White, a junior creative writing major from Minneapolis, recently won first place in a poetry slam competition at the Association of Writers and Writing Programs annual conference in Chicago.
White had started writing poetry when he was in the eighth grade.
Photo by Cindy Votruba
Southwest Minnesota State University creative writing major Nick White performs one of his spoken word poetry pieces. He recently won first place in a poetry slam competition in Chicago.
"I just decided to try it," he said.
He strayed away from poetry for awhile and picked it back up again at the end of high school and into college.
His foray into spoken word poetry started with going to a performance by Eyedea, a Twin Cities spoken word artist.
"I met him after a show and asked him as a writer how to get into hip hop," White said. White said Eyedea told him to go to poetry slams, start writing and "hone your craft and eventually it would come to you," he said. "If it weren't for him, I would've never gotten into it."
A lot of his personal experience and old memories and dysfunction goes into White's poetry. His mother has had struggles with alcoholism, he said.
"Doing slam is like therapy for me, it's a way for me to personify all these issues I have and kind of share them with the crowd to deal with them," White said.
White said he writes and memorizes his poems and then performs them from memory for competitions. He adds a rhyming aspect to his work, which several spoken word artists won't don't do or they internalize it, he said.
Besides the contest at AWP, White's done a couple of poetry slam events in Minneapolis, going head to head with national qualifiers, he said.
The themes in White's spoken word poetry touches on overcoming adversity and rumors and reputations one doesn't deserve.
When he learned that he won the AWP poetry slam competition, White said it was a personal achievement for him.
"It was validating," he said. White said that friends and family tell him that he's good at poetry slams, but to have a crowd, which doesn't know you, name you slam champion was a great experience.
During the second night of the AWP, White was asked to judge a poetry slam event. He said he was also asked to do an encore of one of his poems by a woman who said she works for one of the programs on National Public Radio so she could record it. It was a poem he had written about his mother and her struggle with alcoholism.
"(It's about) her getting over it and getting back to basics," White said. He said the poem may be read on NPR sometime this year.
White said his poem, "For the Crows," has become a recent favorite of people. It's about his issues with abandonment and depression and telling people we are not always alone
"It's just a kind of stand up and keep living kind of poem," he said.
Standard competition pieces in poetry slam contests are about three minutes long, White said.
"I have a couple that get up to five-and-a-half minutes," he said.
White said it's a dream for him to build a poetry slam community here in Marshall and have it grow and continue after he graduates. Every six weeks, he hosts a poetry slam event at the Daily Grind, something he started his freshman year at SMSU.
White has a YouTube channel in which he has about six videos of himself doing poetry slam. He has about 10 to 12 poems in his "arsenal." He's also looking to do more poetry slam competitions in the future.
"Once I graduate I plan to qualify for a national (poetry slam) team in St. Paul," he said. "To compete at a national level would be awesome."