Last Wednesday, UTM’s ICCIT Council hosted their annual poetry night, Scarlit Slam. The event seeks to give students a platform to express their stress and anxiety through poetry. ICCIT partnered with Creatives for Change, Jack.org, and Linkmentalhealth Inc. to raise awareness of mental health issues and encourage dialogue.

The slam was held in Kaneff where coffee, cookies, and LED tealights set the mood as the poets took the floor. The poems differed in length, genre, and tone. Some were stories, some were diaries, and some, confessions. But each one was an experience and the night was full of talent and emotion.

Zaynab Alkari’s poetry began the night. Her poems dealt with grief, loneliness, and the healing effects of time. Her poem The Mother’s Garden is about loss, told through the metaphor of coming to terms with the death of a garden as the seasons change. Alkari painted nature into her poem. We could feel the pain and hope through her flowers, leaves, and skies.

Matthew Prebeg, who said he was “not a poet at all,” performed his poem Six Degrees of Separation. It was a poem he wrote in the hospital about suicide and the trauma of a suicide attempt. It’s about depression and how hard it be can be to find the language to communicate it. Prebeg takes us on a journey through the different stages of his experience and ends in a place of hope and optimism. Prebeg is also the co-lead of the UTM chapter of Jack.org, which is a youth advocacy group that works to eradicate the stigma surrounding mental issues.

Zineb Hamaimou spoke about anxiety. Like Prebeg, she also shared the difficulty of explaining mental illness. In her poem, she expresses that she knows her fears are “irrational,” but that logic doesn’t invalidate her feelings. The poem also adds religion into the conversation. Specifically, a perversion of it that can create barriers in trying to have a conversation about mental health.

On a lighter note, Ahad Syed recited his rap about the stress of university. Syed’s performance generated lots of laughter and cheers from the audience as he talked about an experience that everyone in the room was intimately familiar with. The anxiety, the pressure, and the sleep deprivation of being a university student. Syed managed to be funny while still sincerely depicting the self-doubt and negativity that a competitive environment like U of T can foster.

Published author and designer, Sujaya Devi, performed four of her short poems. They dealt with a variety of issues, like romantic relationships, being objectified, being manipulated, and the danger of society’s preoccupation with perfection. Devi’s poetry elicited nods, snaps, and “ohhh”s at nearly every line.

Jamie Alfrez was a great performer and his energy and rhythm made his poetry memorable and powerful. His poem, Painkillers, which he wrote that very morning, conveyed how hard it can be to get through the week and why sometimes he’d rather be numb to his emotions. Alfrez conveyed pain and hopelessness convincingly and had the whole audience engaged throughout the performance.

The night ended with a musical performance by Sean and Rachel. They performed a cover of Demons by Imagine Dragons as the audience collected their thoughts and emotions. Despite how different the poems seemed, each one inspired connection and ended in a place of optimism.

Edline Roldan, one of the co-organizers, re-emphasized their goal for the night: “Art definitely connects people,” she said, “so we wanted to create a space to express freely.”

“A place for people to just let out stress,” added Shanen Lautan, the other organizer, “especially during midterms.”

It seems as though they succeeded. Although the poems could be heavy and emotional, the night ended with smiles.

“It just relaxes you,” said Shabana, a member of the audience. “It takes away your anxiety.”