amongst books

amongst books

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Have you ever attended a poetry slam?

People perform a timed poem on stage and judges score them. The highest score wins. Slam is part of what is referred to as spoken word, which is basically poetry where the accent is placed on performance, and perhaps on societal issues. It has a huge history and has revitalized poetry, particularly for young people. The Capital Slam Collective (CLC) refers to slam as a revival of the oral poetic tradition.

I’ve been to perhaps four of these in the six years I’ve been involved in Ottawa’s literary scene. Last night I went to the CLC event, which included a reading by rob mclennan, who is not, unless in secret, a slammer.

What impresses me about the spoken word community here in Ottawa is how encouraging and friendly they are. While it was ok to boo the judges who scored the poets too low, the audience was reminded by the hosts Steve Sauve and Elissa Molino to always clap for the poets.

This is not a review of the evening, nor is it a condemnation of slam poetry. I do not have the background to properly review the genre. What I will say is that the performances were strong and I was amazed at those who managed to memorise their poems.

For me however, so far, in the few times I’ve been to these events, they haven’t really been to my taste. I admire the people and I appreciate what they are doing very much, but I get bored. I admire their earnestness and concern for things like the environment, for peace and understanding, but for me, it still felt like I was at the receiving end of a church sermon and it’s nothing I haven’t heard before or don’t hear about every day in one form or another in the news.

It feels to me more like complaining and I find it frustrating. I’d rather take a sign and go somewhere and protest or sign a petition or write a letter to the editor. To me this seems like preaching to the converted. Most of the people who attend these events (I would say all, but one can never tell) are in favour of social justice, are against war, are in favour of love, tolerance and understanding for one’s fellow human being. I wanted to shout out..."so tell me something I don’t know.”

There were a few who didn’t lecture about the evils of society’s ways, such as Kevin Matthews who performed his poem about the colours of making love (I really need to add him to my sexy Canadian male poets list), which was fun and Madame H who told the story of a man who wouldn’t drive a car.

There were some extremely strong performances, such as D.J. Morales and Festrell. Not performing that night was the host, Steve Sauve, but I also really enjoy his performances. Steve doesn't lecture or criticise others, he lampoons himself and that works. These artists are talented and I hope they go far in this genre and wish the best for all of those who enjoy slams, but I’m not a fan. I actually feel badly that I’m not. I want to be, I really do. If anyone wants to educate me otherwise, I'm all for it. Because I really like the people who are involved in the local spoken word community and I respect them.

For those of you who are intrigued by slam and spoken word, you can purchase CDs of your local spoken word artists here:

As to the feature, rob mclennan, I enjoyed hearing him read poems aloud that I’ve only read on the page. Was also lovely to hear Stephen Brockwell read again. He has a commanding stage presence. (and yes, he's on my list.) I didn’t take notes because the venue was too dark for that, so that’s all I’ll say for now.

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