Student poets compete at CUPSI

Queen’s slam poetry event prepares students for next step

Image supplied by: Photo provided by CUPSI
Queen’s team for the College Union Poetry Slam Invitational.

On Nov. 19, students will vie for the chance to compete in an international slam poetry.

Queen’s University’s College Union Poetry Slam Invitational (CUPSI) team will be hosting their final qualifying round of slam poetry at The Grad Club to pick the lucky five who will travel to compete in the U.S. in April.  

For two years now, Queen’s has been one of two Canadian Universities—the other being Ryerson—to participate in the international slam poetry event, CUPSI. 

Queen’s students Haley Sarfeld, Jillian Pineau and Kobe Holas organized the preliminary qualifying rounds that led to this final event. These rounds are opportunities to raise funds to cover trip costs, but the audience will ultimately choose the finalists.

Handpicked at random, several people from the audience judge the performances on a scale of one to 10. 

This rankings’ competitive energy creates a rowdy environment, but also tends to bring audience memberstogether in conversation. As the audience listens, poets can prompt everything from responses to cheering and yelling throughout the performance.

“They’re emotionally charged and personal stories, but people in the audience can hear a poem and say, ‘Wow, I’m not alone in this,’” said Billie Kearns, one of CUPSI’s competing poets. 

She has seen the effects of slam poetry on a number of audiences, having been involved in CUPSI since 2016. “It’s eye-opening,” Kearns said. 

People share their stories with a room full of strangers, and never know who it will resonate with. 

Pineau, Holas, and Kearns said they often write about friends and family, their own lives, and sometimes experiment with different formats of storytelling. 

The anxiety of speaking on stage in front of hundreds of people and reading some of their most personal stories has helped them grow as poets. 

“After CUPSI I got a lot better at performing this poem called ‘Things I Want to Write About’ and doing it here is a lot more fun now. It’s very polished and people always laugh at all the right moments. It’s my favourite poem to do now,” Holas told The Journal

In CUPSI, the subject matter is up to the poets, but length is monitored. If they exceed three minutes, the judges deduct from their score, and their whole performance suffers. 

Aside from the time constraint, all competing poets can’t use any form of hate speech. The CUPSI environment is meant to be one of support and welcoming, hate speech isn’t tolerated. 

Historically, these spoken word forums have always been open spaces and everyone is given a few minutes onstage to share their story. 

In keeping with this tradition, Pineau and Holas work hard to foster a welcoming and supporting environment for both returning poets and newcomers. 

After all, they know how intimidating it can be. 

“It’s definitely enjoyable and an eye opening experience,” Pineau said. “[It’s] really nerve wracking. Especially considering we’re one of the only schools from Canada, there’s a big push to represent.”

The pressure, however, is well worth the worry. 

“Poetry slams really create a nice community, even if it’s just for a couple of hours. It’s a place of belonging, so whether you’re competing or watching or organizing, it’s a really rewarding experience.” 



September 25, 2023

This article failed to include Haley Sarfeld as one of the organizers. It has been updated with her name. 

The Journal regrets the error


CUPSI, Queen's Poetry Slam

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