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Alumna’s powerful slam poem attracts attention of national media

June 25, 2014

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    Photo by Isabella Kindschuh ’15

After a man catcalled her on the street, Samantha Peterson B.A. ’14 took to the stage of the College Unions Poetry Slam Invitational (CUPSI) to deliver a poem that might change the way Americans talk about fat bodies. The piece, “Dead Men Can’t Catcall,” earned her a Best of the Rest individual award and a story in the Huffington Post.

“This poem was from her perspective, directly from her experience, stemming from an actual, concrete moment in time,” said Ted Jamison ’15, one of Peterson’s CUPSI teammates. “The result was an incredibly raw display of bravery.”

For as long as she can remember, Peterson read page poetry. Then as a first-year student in high school, she watched a slam poem on YouTube.

“I remember sitting at my computer and thinking ‘Oh, yeah, the game has changed,’” Peterson said. The first poem she slammed at a competition told the story of a stegosaurus and stardust.

For each of her poems, Peterson takes a new approach. She spends anywhere from 20 minutes to months writing a piece. Later, she rereads her work countless times to commit it to memory. To trim unneeded words, she adds a line at the top of the page capturing the purpose of the poem. Always, she recalls the slam saying, “Remember why you wrote it!”

“I’m always nervous on stage,” Peterson said. “But when I remember that I wrote something that is important to me and that I want to share, I can channel those nerves into performance energy.”

At CUPSI, Peterson funneled that energy into metaphors linking body and landscape—a stomach as the curve of a sand dune, calves a flexing ocean, lips a jar of fireflies—and criticized how that’s the only way most people understand that fat bodies can be desirable.

Said Peterson in the poem’s emotional closing moments, “My body is good like a body. I’m not some sprawling thing in the distance. I am right here.”

Caleb Diehl ’16 contributed to this story.