Snaps and applause rang out Tuesday night in the Engineering Building, as renowned spoken-word poet Kevin Kantor performed at Binghamton University. Hosted by the BU Slam Poetry Club, Kantor recited 12 poems, some of which came from his upcoming chapbook, “Endowing Vegetables With Too Much Meaning.”
Kantor — who describes himself as “an actor/director by day, slam poet by night” — is an award-winning poet who started out at the University of Northern Colorado. At the 2015 College Unions Poetry Slam Invitational (CUPSI), he was awarded “Best of The Rest” and “Best Persona Poem.” Kantor was a member of the 2012 “Denver Minor Disturbance Poetry Slam Team,” a group that took first in the world at Brave New Voices, a poetry slam geared towards youth. His work has been featured in numerous publications, including The Huffington Post and Buzzfeed.
During his time in college, Kantor founded SOAPbox (Student Organized Artistic Projects) Productions, a company that serves as a venue for both theatrical productions and slam poetry events. Through this, he began sharing his work, which promotes awareness for the LGBTQ community, mental health and victims of abusive relationships.
“Poetry is an art form that I think can help heal in many ways,” Kantor said. “It’s where we’re given permission to share our most authentic selves.”
To say that Kantor’s poems are electrifying to watch is an understatement. His background in acting is evident in his performance, which constantly jumps from lighthearted, joking moments to devastatingly serious ones.
Yet despite this heavy subject matter, Kantor was conscious of his audience. In the beginning of his show, he warned that he would speak about highly personal and sometimes uncomfortable topics. In a genre that typically stems from a place of anger, sadness or similar kind of distress, Kantor goes great lengths to ensure that his audience members and guest speakers are comfortable. This highlights one of the most important aspects of slam poetry: the ability to express oneself in a safe space.
As a part of his expression, he did a call-and-response with the audience, shouting out “give” and “accept,” both of which had the expected responses of “love!” After performing “People You May Know,” his most open and acclaimed poem, he interrupted his reading to discuss the importance of equal rights for all groups of people.
“I think poetry is such a unique performance that it could be used as this vessel for political activism,” Kantor said. “It’s where the political meets the personal.”
And the environment that Kantor creates in his performances certainly is personal; he invited members of the BU Slam Poetry Club — who watched the poet perform when they attended CUPSI in 2015 — to perform pieces in between his own. According to Lindsay Young, vice president of the club and a senior majoring in psychology, watching Kantor perform this poem and the attention it brought him is what made them want him to perform for BU.
“We were in the room when he was doing it and you just knew it was something special,” Young said. “Everyone in the room had mouths open, jaws on the floor. He got a lot of attention for it.”
As a new club, Young said that she hopes Kantor’s performance will draw interest in the art.
“I want Binghamton to get a chance to see a poet that does this for a living and how good the art can actually be,” she said. “I want it to bring more attention to our club and what it can do.”
Rachel Levy, a member of the BU Slam Poetry Club and a sophomore double-majoring in political science and philosophy, politics and law, was among the performers. She said that Kantor is one of the poets that got her started with the art in the first place.
“It was an unreal experience to get to perform while he was also performing,” Levy said. “He’s talking a lot about issues that you don’t really hear about a lot.”