Yale Student Wins International Poetry Slam Competition | Connecticut Public Radio
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Yale Student Wins International Poetry Slam Competition

Oct 28, 2015

Yale University senior Emi Mahmoud is the winner of this year's Individual World Poetry Slam Championship.

The competition was earlier this month, and despite a debilitating case of writer's block last year, and the loss of her grandmother on the first day of the competition, Mahmoud managed to edge out some of the best spoken word performers in the world and take the crown this year.

Mahmoud did not expect to make it to the finals. In fact, she performed all of her poems in the preliminary rounds, leaving her without material for the finals. So she spent the morning of the finals writing and memorizing a new poem, drawing on the loss of her grandmother, and the ongoing violence in her native country of Sudan. Here is that poem, called "Mama."

Mama by Emi Mahmoud

I was walking down the street when a man stopped me and said, 
Hey yo sistah, you from the motherland?
Because my skin is a shade too deep not to have come from foreign soil
Because this garment on my head screams Africa
Because my body is a beacon calling everybody to come flock to the motherland
I said, I’m Sudanese, why?
He says, ‘cause you got a little bit of flavor in you, I’m just admiring what your mama gave you

Let me tell you something about my mama
She can reduce a man to tattered flesh without so much as blinking
Her words fester beneath your skin and the whole time,
You won’t be able to stop cradling her eyes.
My mama is a woman, flawless and formidable in the same step.
Woman walks into a warzone and has warriors cowering at her feet
My mama carries all of us in her body,
on her face, in her blood and
Blood is no good once you let it loose
So she always holds us close.

When I was 7, she cradled bullets in the billows of her robes.
That same night, she taught me how to get gunpowder out of cotton with a bar of soap.
Years later when the soldiers held her at gunpoint and asked her who she was
She said, I am a daughter of Adam, I am a woman, who the hell are you?
The last time we went home, we watched our village burn,
Soldiers pouring blood from civilian skulls
As if they too could turn water into wine.
They stole the ground beneath our feet.

The woman who raised me
turned and said, don’t be scared
I’m your mother, I’m here, I won’t let them through.
My mama gave me conviction.
Women like her
Inherit tired eyes,
Bruised wrists and titanium plated spines.
The daughters of widows wearing the wings of amputees
Carry countries between their shoulder blades.

I’m not saying dating is a first world problem, but these trifling motherfuckers seem to be.
The kind who’ll quote Rumi, but not know what he sacrificed for war.
Who’ll fawn over Lupita, but turn their racial filters on.
Who’ll take their politics with a latte when I take mine with tear gas.
Every guy I meet wants to be my introduction to the dark side,
Wants me to open up this obsidian skin and let them read every tearful page,
Because what survivor hasn’t had her struggle made spectacle?
Don’t talk about the motherland unless you know that being from Africa
means waking up an afterthought in this country.
Don’t talk about my flavor unless you know that My flavor is insurrection, it is rebellion, resistance
my flavor is mutiny
It is burden, it is grit and it is compromise
And you don't know compromise until you’ve rebuilt your home for the third time
Without bricks, without mortar, without any other option

I turned to the man and said,
My mother and I can’t walk the streets alone back home any more.
Back home, there are no streets to walk any more.