The thing that struck me about this women’s slam, at the time and after is that is was good poetry. And it was poetry that identifies problems not with cynacism and looking forward with hope. As Nancy Duarte was talking about on TED, a compelling talk has a certain rhythm of back and forth and narrative curve that works. These poets could work it. There was a cycle of performers and audience exchanging good energy. They could perform confident and engaged and get it back. It wasn’t soap box rants. It wasn’t cliche thoughts. It wasn’t raw therapy. All the poems were polished and thought out on a deep structure, with compelling hooks.
Various poets used metaphor and language in agile ways. Some went towards storytelling, some with the structure of song with bits of bridge or chorus but the net effect wasn’t feeling trapped in someone else’s narrative outboard gunning for the far shore. And of course, everyone was performing from memory.
Each owned the stage. Some did it with a low voice and still body and timing that made a room of 130-plus people still and listening. Some owned the stage as she walked around it. Some changed emotional tone, using volume and motion to enhance their pieces.
While everyone got seated (and it was a completely sold out show with over 130 tickets sold and spill out to listen in from the next room) PrufRock was DJing
For reading order, Ruthann pulled names from a hat for both rounds. Each person had 3 minutes to make their poem. (There was a time penalty for running over.)
Mia Morgan was the sacrificial poet who calibrated the judges. She did a love poem of inviting the person to go on together “like iambic hexameter is inconvenient, in a good way.” She said, “let’s make poetry out of road signs.”
In slam the top score is thrown out and the bottom score is thrown out to account for a judge who gives 10 to everyone or someone who had a fender bender by chance with one of the participants or is in a particularly out of sorts mood.
Not that that a bad mood was likely. The room was full of good vibe. Judges were cheered or told they should score higher.
Ruthann read out the scores from lowest to highest. Rusty tallied them.
Co-champions matched the spirit of the evening with the cheering each other on from the green room backstage could be heard front stage. When one poet lost her place and blanked out, got it back together, got thru, but with a time penalty, she was met at the curtain with a hug. But we’ll get to all that later.
Each of the teams have their own tradition to encourage the poet. The Youth group makes a heart in the air drawn with their thumbs and says en masse, “love”.
Capital Slam says, “Raise it!”. Since this was a joint-show, each performer circled thru the next one of the three greetings.
In all traditions, the performer isn’t stranded under spotlights to wither on stage should stage fright hit. Encouragement comes from the audience, vocally or by quiet finger snaps. Thru the performances, the audience is part of the show and may make sounds. They aren’t a passive vessel for the poetry coming at them.
Sepideh was first up and had a poem about god vs. mother nature that towards the start asked “Who delivered god, cut the umbilical cord and declared…It’s a boy!” And you don’t want to miss if you can help it the story of returning to her grandfather’s hometown, imagining what it must have been like for her Afghani grandmother “where she never wakes up to the stigma of where comes from…there is a place…hundreds of pistachios open their mouths to tell us…” Tell us what? Come on the 29th.
Elissa Molino talked about the kiss she’s waited 28 years for and can wait 28 years more for because it will be worth it. In her second set she told a comic story of a friend’s friend dropping acid and the trouble that got him in. If you get a chance to hear her perform that, do. It reels as quite the ride.
And Stargazer did a piece, with the technique I mentioned, with a refrain that came back thru and deepened each time about the steps we need to take for our kids. It’s not easy to grow up black in Canada. In her next set she reminded us that it wasn’t women who obeyed the mores of their time who changed the world, like Harriet Tubman.
Elle P was one of the ones who spoke quietly, with stillness and still commanded attention with her presence. She was top scorers so she’ll be back on the 29th. One of her poems was about listening to your own instinct, and loving and stretching despite because “turning into a cynic is only hurting your cause”.
Festrell always gives a powerhouse reading. One was a fallen-out-love-and-into-self-confidence poem (“your fingerprints all over my memories”) and the other about the inane cultural habit of gender. The floors were shaking with people stomping responses to her poems and the poem made my hair stand on end. Expect Festrell on the 29th too.
Now CauseMo is part of Ottawa Youth Capital Slam and you’re lucky; she has a youtube vid of her piece: Masquerade about false social faces. She’s a dramatic actress and so talented so young.
Sarah Musa asked about impossible propositions like being welcomed and treated as outside both, like “how can you be a ballerina with razor blades for feet?” and in her other set addressed the
mind and body poison industry, er, I mean, the cosmetics industry and asked people to not play the game of being reduced to someone else’s ideal. (Wish this message could get out further.)
“Screw strobes – we were the lights!” “We were the hipsters who made hips stirrrr.” She said, “the average lifespan of a female born in 1997 is 79 and to you I look 14 years old but to myself I’m 14 years dead.”
Rage is in the youth category too and told the story of standing against a nasty neighbour who with his dog blocked the sidewalk and told her and her friend to “go home”. Unfortunately for me I didn’t copy anything down from her second set getting happily lost in her imagery. Here’s a bit from her from last July.
Jenna Tenn-Yuk you can hear at CFSW championships Keep Breathing. She spoke of being “no longer under my inner Stalin, holding the revolver to her own head and shooting bullets of judgement” and everyone’s favourite stressor, family dinners with closed-minded ranting relatives. Again there’s that sense of designing, composing words for the ear, for the performance to build in the reader’s head and pivot as it goes on.
D-Lightfull spoke to the ladies in bad relationships. Here she holds up the ring finger that’s empty. The guy claims until death do you part but no jewelry and “you’re already dying/ to get out”. She had spunk that makes the audience hoot and clap thru it.
She gave a piece about the court system claiming to be black and white but clearly it sees in colour judging from the disproportional treatment of people who are not white. She’s one of the ones you can catch at Versefest.
Danielle K.L. Gregoire recounted the story of her first love on a ski lift.They were separated only by ski pants and “a kind of erotic rigor mortis”. (They were 10.) Her CD is Optimism is a Constant Struggle. Great CD.
A part of what made the night speed by and give more energy than it took was the spirit thru many of the poems of problem, solution and paint a vision of what it could be like and exhort people to embrace and make this better world. We are not passengers in life, but drivers.
For me it wasn’t about women poetry but about good poetry and vision.
Tickets and passes are now for sale at the Versefest site. it runs Feb 28-March 4th. I expect I’ll be there every day.
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