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Engineering grad puts slam poetry skills to the test at national event

A photo of Torli Bush.

Torli Bush performs at the Southern Fried Poetry Slam.

While most recent graduates of West Virginia University’s Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources are pursuing careers in their respective fields, one is taking a different path: slam poetry.

Webster Springs native and mechanical engineering alumnus Torli Bush recently put his skills to the test at the 25th Annual Southern Fried Poetry Slam, one of the nation’s largest poetry events, held June 7-10, in Louisville, Kentucky.

“I got into slam poetry by accident really,” Bush explained. “I went to the Monongalia Arts Center one evening and Lori Beth Jones, director of operations for the Pittsburgh Poetry Collective, was there. She told me about their slam venue in the East Liberty District. I'd had an interest in watching slam poetry on YouTube and had written a couple of pieces but didn't really get into it until I started going up there.”

Bush has since competed in about 15 slams, including Pittsburgh's Individual World Poetry Slam Qualifier and its National Poetry Slam Team Qualifier.

A competitive form of spoken word, poetry slams are high-energy competitions where poets have three minutes to perform original works. They are judged by five people who are randomly selected from the audience, who score performances on a scale of zero-10. High and low scores are dropped and the middle three are kept. At the end of three rounds of “slamming,” a winner is crowned.

At Southern Fried, Bush scored 21.2 the first night of the competition, which eliminated him from moving on to the Indie Finals. He later scored 28.5 and 27.6 in subsequent performances.

A member of Tau Beta Pi, the engineering honorary, and recipient of WVU’s Rhododendron, Engineering Achievement and the Health Sciences & Technology Academy Scholarships, Bush said he finds poetry therapeutic.

“It’s a balance to the scientific aspects of engineering and it's a great way to meet people from a range of backgrounds outside the niches of the STEM disciplines,” Bush said. “I have, however, come across others in STEM- and business-related areas as well as poets who have a recreational interest in science.

“Engineering has helped me think about poetry differently,” Bush continued. “If I had to liken poetry to a particular course it would be Mechanics of Materials. You want your poem to be able to handle the stresses, strains and torsions you create through imagery, wordplay and voice inflection while maintaining its structure or in the poem’s case, coherence. Coherence is the only thing that you as a writer and performer owe the audience.”

While like his fellow alums, Bush is seeking employment as an engineer, he also hopes to further his education in engineering and poetry. He plans to pursue master’s degrees in both areas beginning in 2018. In the interim, he will put his slam skills to the test at Pittsburgh’s City Qualifier later this month. The top finishers will be named to the city’s National Poetry Slam Team.



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