UPDATE: This post is about the 2012 event. If you’re looking for our 2013 Victorious Voices post, you can find it here.
Although Marcia and I have both been writers for most of our lives, our introduction to ‘slam poetry’ is somewhat recent – only since Shane Koyczan performed at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver. Like all forms of poetry there are a few rules to follow, and since slam poetry is spoken, most of those rules relate to presentation. Poetry slams are ‘competitive’, but competitive in the true sense of the word – from the Latin, meaning ‘to strive together’. All work must be original. Poetry may be spoken individually or in ‘teams’. Each poet has up to 3 minutes to perform his/her piece, with a 10-second grace period following that. Any longer and the poet begins losing points for going over time. The time begins when the poet first engages the audience. The poet may not use props or musical accompaniment, and may not wear a costume. That’s the essentials of it.
Last night marked the 3rd annual ‘Victorious Voices‘ final – Victoria’s Secondary School Slam Championships. The semi-finals were on Monday night, but unfortunately we missed that event. Eight teams from local secondary schools made the semi-finals, and the final four teams performed last night. The students were from Esquimalt High School, Pearson College, and Reynolds Secondary (Junior and Senior). The event was held at the Victoria Event Centre, on Broad Street between Johnson and Pandora.
So… how was it? Incredible. Amazing. Outstanding. Enough superlatives yet? The Event Centre holds some 250 people, and it was packed, with a standing-room-only crowd. Aside from the competing teams, there were other students, parents, teachers, coaches, supporters, and people who simply came in off the street. As the saying goes, the joint was ‘rockin’.
There were five ‘celebrity judges’ who did the scoring (0-10 for each performance), including Victoria’s poet-laureate Janet Rogers and Victoria’s mayor Dean Fortin. There were opening performances by Ms. Rogers, Jeremy Loveday (Jeremy is one of the founders of the event and an amazing poet too) and Victorious Voices’ first ‘Alumnus of Honour’, Keenan Proud. Missie Peters (director of Victoria’s Spoken Word Festival) then took over the microphone as MC for the evening. The first presentation was by the Glenlyon Norfolk team, who apparently missed the finals on Monday night by ½ point. Their presentation literally ‘set the stage’. The ‘sacrificial poet’ for the evening (the one by whose work every other score is judged) was also a member of the Glenlyon Norfolk team.
And then we began in earnest. There were four preliminary rounds, each round showcasing one member from each team. The final round was the ‘team’ event, with all four (or five) members of each team performing as a group.
And what did they choose as topics for their work? Well, let’s just say they were open, honest, and blatant in their addresses. Topics included world politics, economics, gang-related violence, dreams, disasters, sex, dementia, stress, friendship, love, those who try, those who fail and those who keep going. People slammed about drugs and about religion, about miscarriages and about ‘labels’ (and how they can follow one through life). They presented fear, anger, joy, and so much more. Some of the work enervated and some of it nearly brought tears. Through it all, though, the one uniting thread, was honesty. There was one young man who slammed about being a middle-class white kid with nothing earth-shattering to say, but that he had a voice and nobody could deny him his right to use it.
And that is, to me, the essence of the event. I spoke briefly with Mayor Fortin at the break, and asked him what he thought of the evening. He was astounded by the quality of the work, and said so. We agreed that the underlying message here is that these young men and women are learning to recognize the power of their individual and collective voices. As Mayor Fortin said, in a democracy the one true power that everyone has is the right to use his or her voice, to be heard and to be respected.
In the end, one of the four teams came in last and one of them came in first. One team will go on to the provincial championships, and they are to be congratulated But to the poets, the organizers, the coaches, teachers and supporters, ‘winning’ isn’t the highest goal. It’s about sharing, about speaking, and about listening. As Missie Peters said repeatedly throughout the event, “Applaud the poet, not the score!” Thanks to everyone who was on stage last night, and for everyone who brought it into being.
Victoria is an amazingly diverse community of artists from all different walks of life. There are at least three spoken word events (including poetry slams, open mic nights and poetry/prose readings) held monthly in this area (that we know about) – feel free to add more in the Comments. They are:
- Pen in Hand Poetry/Prose – Serious Coffee, Cook St. Village – 3rd Monday of every month
- Planet Earth Poetry – Moka House, 1633 Hillside Avenue – every Friday (once monthly during the summer)
- Tongues of Fire Poetry – Solstice Café, 529 Pandora Avenue – 2nd and 4th Thursday of every month
Maybe we’ll see you there! Bring yourself, a friend, an open mind/heart, and something you’ve written! If someone was to ask me how many attendedess last night were poets I’d have to answer ‘all of them’. I’m reminded of the story of a mother who told her child she was learning how to draw. Astonished, her child asked, “When did you forget?”