i spent the afternoon at the first event of the Canadian Festival of Spoken Word. It was the Last Chance Slam, giving a group of 12 performers the chance to compete for 5 positions, I believe) on a team.
i went primarily in memory of friend and spoken word performer, Steve Sauvé, whose birthday is today and who died a year ago January. i also went because i thought i needed to open my mind. this is the first time in a number of years that this festival has been held in Ottawa and i thought it would be a chance for me to reacquaint myself with a genre that i had found not to my taste ten years ago and never explored since.
i disqualified myself as judge based on the idea that if they didn’t want judges who had slept with any of the competitors, they probably wouldn’t want judges who wanted to sleep with a few of the competitors either.
i was impressed by a number of the performers: the word play of Kevin Matthews, in particular, the imagery of Festrell (Faye Estrella, the love of Steve’s life), the humour of some of the performers and their intense emotion. All of the competitors brought heart to their performance and had the courage of their convictions. some of the performers had as fine a sense of pacing, pitch and tone as many sound poets i’ve heard.
yes, some things i really didn’t enjoy. i have to say that i find the idea of judging creative work doesn’t appeal to me, not like this, not where random people are picked from the audience and the scores are so arbitrary. but why not? right now i’m waiting and interested to know the results of the Mann Booker prize. i watched the Olympics this year and rooted for specific athletes. i’m not sure why, but i did find myself squirming in my seat about the judging and the pressure from the audience. no judge gave lower than an 8 and when they gave out any eights they were booed.
some of the performers used the opportunity for a cathartic therapy session and i wanted to nod and stroke my beard. and i don’t have a lot of patience for young girls complaining about being hit on by old men. not their faults, but that was the only part of the show where i felt my cliché senses tingling. but then those senses get a fine work out with my own poetry and most open mics in town.
i was squeamish about the evangelical feeling, peer pressuryness of it, when the host had everyone raise their fists for each performer and shout “Raise It” to show their support. i like the idea of showing support, but that felt kind of creepy cultish to me. that’s me. i don’t respond well to group pressure. i don’t wear a specific colour to support a cause, even when i believe in that cause. i won’t rabbit out a status update on fb for awareness of breast cancer, etc…
when Faye performed a piece she dedicated to Steve, about removing one’s armour, I had to dig around in my purse for a Kleenex for a while. the most beautiful part of the experience for me was seeing a group of young people respond to the performers, (and it was mostly young people. (i was likely the oldest there…well, me, the CBC cameraman and someone’s mom…). the audience found the performances compelling and they sustained their attention.
i watched the audience being moved by the performers and their pieces. moved by the compassion, the humour and the word play. the kids snapped their fingers when a particular turn of phrase or image struck their fancy. and i’ve rarely seen performances with such heart. these days i am looking for more heart, more display of feeling rather than less.
the Festival is on today until October 16. go with an open mind and check it out.