Article by Teri Loretto
EXCITEMENT was in the air, a packed house of talking, chatting, and murmuring people. All ages and cultures, sizes and genders moved in chaotic patterns around the rather sober Tabaret Hall on the University of Ottawa Campus last night. It was the first round of the National Slam Bouts that are the highlight of the National Festival of Spoken Word taking place this week in the Canada’s Capital.
Four of eighteen teams competing were represented: Victoria, Winnipeg, Lanark County ( yes you read this right, they have their own team!) and Urban Legends, a local favourite.
‘For folks who state that the spoken word is all, they sure do have a lot of stuff in print’ I thought, as I entered the warm and BUZZING hall passing the merch table on the way in. What to expect? What to expect, I muse. I mean I had seen spoken word before, albeit not in this setting and not with this kind of build-up. What to expect…stand by…GO!
First up, MC and welcome, the crowd gets respectfully rowdy and begins to relax. Jill Christmas
is introduced as the ‘sacrifice poet’- you would call her the warm-up in comedy or the ‘fluffer’
in…well…never mind. But fluff she does, check out her big smile and then… the room as one becomes hussssshhhhed.. She is sexy and smart. Sad, vulnerable and hard all at the same time. SLAM. Hurtfully beautiful. As one entity, the breath of the crowd goes out. MAN! That was good, that was good. Too long? SO WHAT!
Now we are cooking. Victoria starts with a group event, good, a bit nervous but solid. Self effacingly Canadian-WE DIDN’T COME TO WIN. Sure. OK. Solid though. Next up is a refreshing change. Lanark’s Inez Dekker brings us back to a more innocent time-(or maybe we just didn’t listen in the same way then?) She is cool, and despite the book in hand, seems confident and her perspective is unique here. UNIQUE. In a good way. Oldest participant ever in this fest. But we DO NOT ask a lady her age-wink- she’s on par with most here so it doesn’t matter.
Winnipeg’s Dylan Mowatt, you make me laugh. WIT. The story here is his lack of a story, which makes for a story we can all understand. Why am I thinking of my mum and dad? OOOO. Clever man, clever man. Good story. SLAM!
ANGER. And he’s talking too fast-I can’t catch all the words, but BOY what passion. Marcus Jameel from Urban Legends has just stoked up the fires of this event. Back on track, we are here to explode. And explode he does. Here’s the anger and injustice talk I remember from my last slam event. How old is this man’s anger anyways? Doesn’t matter. SLAM! Applause, applause. Crowd loves this guy.
All the poets and speakers are good. No one fails, even when they falter. We are on the edge of our seats, or sprawl in them content or happy, sad, angry and never, NEVER BORED.
Looking around the room now, huge soaring ceilings and Roman columns surround the speakers: they look like Cicero as they preach, cajole, YELL, sing, chant, whisper and convert. LIGHT BULB. These people ARE our Ciceros, telling it like it is, or is not, or making it seem like THIS is something we WANT TO KNOW. Talking, just talking and making people FEEL and affecting change. Words are a powerful thing.
So many wonderful moments, but they don’t blend or bend into one. These are individuals here. It is the crowd that is one. These are the voices of the individuals who are otherwise unheard, the sounds unvoiced and the thoughts inside. SLAM!
MAKE ME A BELIEVER! SALEM! MR. RIGHT! CHANGE! SALEM! Then… surprisingly (mostly to me), I cry. And the girl behind me cries. And we hold hands. Strangers. And the room falls silent in a space of sadness laced with hope. WOW. This Hifidelik is some good. Honest. Hurts. I can’t put into words how much this touched me-his words conveyed a need for forgiveness that is universal. A poem. Huh. Words. Powerful things.
SLAM! MY pick for the night.
Then, ‘That’s my sister’, yells someone in the crowd, aloud and proud as the last poet of the night takes the stage. It’s all good. I am not disappointed. But strangely this is not something I want to do myself.
(Whereas usually I think ‘I could do that-I wanna do THAT’ when something is truly cool) But tonight I am happy to be fed with the words of others. A true feast. I’m full up folks. But like all good food?
Tomorrow I will want some more.
Check this festival out! WORDS ARE POWERFUL THINGS.