SPEAK poetry group hones talents, competes in New York slam

Members of SPEAK, a poetry group based out of SF State. From left to right: Anthony May, Jarvis Subia, Imani Cezanne, Andrew Bigelow, and Cosmo Goodnick. Photo by Andy Sweet/Xpress
Members of SPEAK, a poetry group based out of SF State pose after a rehearsal for their upcoming slam competition in New York. From left to right: Anthony May, Jarvis Subia, Imani Cezanne, Andrew Bigelow, and Cosmo Goodnick. Photo by Andy Sweet/Xpress

Artistic expression calls for a medium to showcase its creativity. For SF State student Jarvis Subia, he found that medium through poetry.

“Having somewhere to openly express your art and who you are is vital, I feel for most artists,” Subia, a 22-year-old creative writing major, said. “Without SPEAK (Spoken Poetry Expressed by All Kinds), I may have never realized the talent and passion I have for writing.”

Creating an outlet for students to express themselves is very important to 23-year-old Anthony May, co-founder and vice president of SPEAK. For the last two years, the group — co-founded with fellow student and poet, Imani Cezanne — has aimed to establish a medium for student’s expression and a tool for creative development.

The group organizes open mics throughout the semester that take place at The Depot, runs writing workshops and participates in poetry contests: Battle of the Bay and the College Unions Poetry Slam Invitational (CUPSI), a national poetry slam competition. Each program SPEAK organizes is aimed at challenging and honing members’ skills, ultimately cultivating and fine-tuning the ability to effectively communicate their message.

The group has been fundraising a cross-country air trip to New York City for this year’s CUPSI competition, by doing shows on and off campus, running bake sales, street performing and selling merchandise.

“Last year (CUPSI), which was in L.A., was our first year taking part in this 12-year competition,” May said. “We placed in the top 20. This year we are going to take the whole thing.”

The CUPSI competition brings in more than 48 college poetry groups that compete in a “slam” style environment. According to the website, the winners are “judged on a numerical scale by randomly picked members of the audience.”

Competition is nothing new to SPEAK. Training and fine-tuning their ability to express themselves by a poetic medium across a multitude of themes and messages is one of their biggest missions.

“This organization has connection to 99 percent of poets who are masters at their craft,” said 20-year-old English major and second-year SPEAK member Keenan Todd. “Being mentored and criticized by such prominent individuals has allowed me to improve drastically and express myself more fully.”

Liberal studies major Cosmo Goodnick, 22, and a newer member to the group, concurs that SPEAK establishes a medium for creative growth.

“Coach Imani is a very talented slam poet, so having the expertise of her years has been great for helping me learn a new style of poetry,” Goodnick said.

Bringing together a group of people with similar passions has inspired May and other group members into becoming better poets overall.

“SFSU has a lot of talented people,” May said. “The outlets have affected me by giving me the place and space to listen to a lot of the great talent on our campus.”

The regular open mics at The Depot continue to be a main draw and training ground for members. Subia returned this semester to SPEAK as an officer, and continues to participate in The Depot open mics.

“I’ve been coming to SPEAK’s open mic event, which is the main show, for a little shy of three years now,” Subia said. “Most of my poetry comes from personal feelings or experiences.” In encouraging others to do the same, Subia says, “SPEAK provides that safe and comfortable environment for others to do so.”