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Spoken Word at Ottawa Writer’s Fest

Kevin Matthews hosts on stage Ian Keteku
Kevin Matthews and Ian Keteku took the stage for an inspiring workshop presentation on what spoken word is, what it does and how. There was a super amount of engagement, questions and statements from the audience.

Kevin guided discussion. Ian (who is current world spoken word champion, journalist, and former MC battler) talked about how in spoken word, it’s about expressing. FB updates are coming from the same impulse as poetry. Call if what you will, it’s about connection.

The event itself was an example of connection in itself. That magical flow that can occasionally happen with the stage and audience feeding each other good energies happened. That’s part of the strength of spoken word. The monologue becomes a dialogue by the culture of participating, by giving feedback, snapping, nodding, verbal feedback or whatever sounds. It was eye-opening to hear him do a piece I’ve heard him do three times before but what a shift when there’s that vibe in the room and people are giving good full energy. He talked about competition bringing up one’s games but an enthusiastic audience, that brings up the game too.

It was interesting to see how many the kids of primary school when asked to think of something they hate verbalized: Harper. His response to that was saying in poetry what you’re trying to do is use your voice and examine where you come from, what makes you hate something? What brings you to this place.

He performed his poem “Right Side Up” in a yoga position. It exists as an animation:

Ian said that’s the thing about poetry and about animation — you can use them to create new realities that didn’t exist before and make them into something real.

We have access to create in this era, whether animation, or videos on youtube, to spread communications between communities. Spoken word is taking off around Canada, and Ottawa. Spoken word can be an agent for changing in a comparable way that the Feminism wave of the 60s and the gay rights movement of the 60s had a cheap means of access to make video art their forum and form. In the case of Spoken word the consensus is about consensus, inclusion, racism, resolution, fears and love, and all the same subjects as Shakespeare used in a comparable physical set up of oral speaking using meter, rhyme, jokes, metaphor, all the usual poetic devices to speak to anyone. Ian related the Zimbabwe saying: “If you can walk, you can dance. If you can talk you can sing.”

The barriers to entering dialogue are getting cheaper and lighter. All it takes is a few people coming forward and saying, let’s do this, bring poetry, bring discussion, bring issues forward, bring community into being.

ian and kevin
Here’s a bit of today’s noon hour talk on spoken word (on vimeo).

You can see for yourself but it was interesting that he pointed out and enacted how part of the appeal of spoken word is the spark of in-person experience. It isn’t just word. It can use other cues of lighting, video, and music. Some people do spoken word as storytelling, some as rap, some in formal meter and some with songs interwoven. You need rhythm and a desire to say something about something but the barriers to entry are very low. There’s a sharing your story with a crowd who shares and supports. It’s a warm community.

There’s the linguistic level but you don’t necessarily need the linguistic context. He’s performed in countries where the language of the audience isn’t English but still communicated with the sounds of words, the body language, the emotional language and the audience feels something in response. We saw that at Versefest with people who spoke no Spanish crying as Pura López-Colomé read in Spanish –– something transmitted in intonation, intention, body and rhythms.

There was a seriously long line for this CD, and his autograph.

Keteku is also part of this Multi-artist, multi-media thingee tomorrow.

Related posts:

  1. Spoken Word Paris On Sept 5th I dropped in at Spoken Word Paris on their first week of return after the summer break. It was a wonderful atmosphere. Poets from all over read...
  2. Canadian Festival of Spoken Word The 7th annual Canadian Festival of Spoken Word runs Oct 12-16th in Ottawa. 18 teams from across Canada have done run-offs over the last few months to be chosen to...
  3. Spoken Word Revolution, Redux (cross-posted at I’ve got a review copy of The Spoken Word Revolution Redux. It is book 2 in a series on the history of Spoken Word. It is by...

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