a cork board


let your words live through you

 

The Canadian Festival of Spoken Word is Canada’s National Poetry Slam (or Spoken Word Olympics). For seven years now, cities from across Canada put together their best spoken word artists and we all get together to throw beautiful words at each other in eloquent word wars. The festival travels like a carnival, but only once a year. It’s been in Ottawa (2004 & 2010), Vancouver (2005), Toronto (2006), Halifax (2007), Calgary (2008) and Victoria (2009). This year there was a record 18 teams from across Canada competing (Halifax, Montreal, Ottawa Capital Slam, Ottawa Urban Legends, Lanark County, Peterborough, Toronto Poetry Slam, Toronto Up From The Roots, Burlington Slam Project, Guelph, London, Winnipeg, Saskatoon, Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver, Victoria and Wild Card Team).

 This was my very first CFSW. I’ve heard for years from my fellow poets how amazing of an experience it is. How it feels like a family and it’s all love. I was looking forward to it needless to say. On October 12th 90+ poets converged onto Canada’s Capital City. It was a groundbreaking festival, not only because of the record-setting 18 teams, or because it marked the first time the Festival would return to a city, but also because it marked the first time the Festival was marred with protest.

 And thus, a group of well-to-do poets who volunteer their time and hearts to be part of Spoken Word Canada (SpoCan) along with the Festival Organizing Committee, were turned into politicians. The Festival was accused of supporting white supremacy. Some ill-thought-out comments made by my very own teammate (Team Burlington) were in-turn taken out of context. The entire community across Canada got involved and a big, blatant race line was drawn right through the middle of the scene. It was a division (you’re either with us or against us type of the thought). People kept saying things like I support A or I support B, if you supported a different letter (or color) you got glares from the other. Because I share a team with the subject of protest I found myself getting luke-warm, tepid shoulders from the same poets who used to give me hugs, because I apparently refused to take action.

 The problem with these things is it becomes like a game of telephone, the message gets skewed with each par of lips it passes through. The issue got so big, it was out of the hands of the two individuals it began with. It was like this monster that was threatening to eat everything we’ve worked so hard to build. But the beast was set at bay by the wonderful poets turned politicians thanks to closed door meetings and motions and sheer frankness. Our poetry community still has scars on it’s face from this. Lines are still drawn and people still murmur in corners.

 While all this was happening, we still had the poetry to worry about. We locked ourselves into our hotel room and took every ounce of energy surrounding us and we practiced. We practiced with stopwatch in hand. We ran our poems into the ground and learned to hang our hearts on our shoulders. We were there for poetry…and that was it. Poets get together and the words are supposed to do the talking. We had crafted work before and after the fiasco, but the frustration from the situation pushed our passion into a fervor. We made the Finals Stage. One of the top four teams in the country! We came last of the night, but I know we showed something great that night. Win or lose…it’s how you play the game. And we played it like we had nothing to hide. It was a fantastic ride and I think Team Burlington (Myself, Tomy Bewick, Truth Is …, Made Wade & Lishai) displayed utmost solidarity and cohesion in the face of skepticism and even slander. Our words spoke for themselves…which is what should happen when poets gather to sling eloquence.

 When the dust settled Ottawa Capital Slam came out on top (National Slam Champion 2 years in a row!). Huge Congrats John Akapata, Open Secret, Prufrock & Chris Tse!!! Ottawa Urban Legends (Marcus Jameel, Hyfidelik, Hodan Ibrahim & Synonymous, you guys slayed it!) came second. Team Montreal (Alessandra Naccarato, Queen KA, D-Na & Caytey Lush, thank you for your words) came third. And Team Burlington came fourth. Finals Night was everything you would expect it to be…a night full of humor, brave honesty, spitfire politics and reflection from the voices of our generation. We speak so the voices of tomorrow can hear us and be brave enough to speak for themselves. We can be as loud as our hearts will let us. As a community we should never feel threatened in providing or receiving feedback, we should be open and ready to discuss the inner workings of our work. We are poets, and we have to stand for something. But we also have to be tolerant of others, forthcoming with our intentions and willing to not only accept criticism but to deliver it in a way that is not destructive. Let’s learn from this, poets. If you’re from the outside looking in, let’s learn from this as well.

 A part of me hopes to get warm hugs from those tepid shoulders in Ottawa…and if I don’t then I know that they just don’t get it. And I don’t have to expend my energy opening my arms to stone faces. We can love each other and move forward. I write not only to express myself but in the hopes that words actually can bring us closer as a people and not divide us further. We should all try to be so noble as to live our words rather than turn ourselves into hypocrites by being bigots. Let’s live AND write poetry. I will sign off of this message with a quote from Matisyahu’s Two Child One Drop:

I don’t run.I don’t flee. I don’t fight
I don’t make fun but don’t flex my might
I don’t act dumb but don’t shine my light
I sit down on the ground till the time is right

They seek my demise and rely on my dark side to give into the night
All those desperate ghosts, stuck souls trapped in black holes
became werewolves, stolen souls wanna see me bleed

……….
So tread lightly no need to fight me
No need to be right it’s so frightening
Soul like dust and flash like lightning
I slip through your grip cause you hold so tightly
I didn’t stop nah I’m just becoming
I’m not finished nah I’m just arriving
I’m not done don’t know where I’m going
Not afraid not to know and keep growing
Once you know you’re dead and not living
and that’s the wisdom to know while your breathing

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