April 13-15 marked the seventh year for Victorious Voices, and our fifth year of being able to attend! A part of Raising Voices, hosted by the Victoria Poetry Project, Victorious Voices is a spoken word poetry competition for high school students in the greater Victoria area. It’s a way of giving students a voice and showing them how to use it, but it’s a lot more than that. It’s about writing, creativity, cooperation, teamwork, literature, presence and so much more, and Victorious Voices is a competition in the original sense – from the Greek competere: “to strive together”. Whether performing individually or in teams, the poets are encouraged to bring forth the best in themselves and each other.
Victorious Voices 2016 was the biggest one ever, with nine teams competing from various schools in Victoria as well as teams from Shawnigan Lake and Chemainus, a little up-island. There was also one team from the Greater Victoria Public Library, brought together and coached by former Victoria Youth Poet Laureate, Zoé Duhaime. The event ran three nights, Monday to Wednesday, with the semi-finals on Monday, performances Tuesday night by various spoken word artists, and the finals Wednesday night. This year there were also various workshops and other activities held during the day. Of the nine teams, four made it to the finals night: Pearson College, Reynolds Secondary, Greater Victoria Public Library and Glenlyon Norfolk School.
Being a competition, there were five judges for the evening… a task we would not envy as all of the performers have so much to offer. The judges were: Mayor Lisa Helps, Saanich Councillor Colin Plant, Poet Laureate Yvonne Blomer, Micha (?) and Youth Poet Laureate Ann-Bernice Thomas. Spoken word poet Johnny MacRae was the M/C for the evening, and none of this would have begun without the leadership and tireless dedication of spoken word poet and Victoria Councillor Jeremy Loveday.
The first poet for the evening was our own city mayor, Lisa Helps! If you want to see what it takes to be both poet and mayor, click on the link below to see a short video of one of the two poems she recited:
After Lisa Helps, this year’s Alumnus of Honour (and former Youth Poet Laureate) Zoé Duhaime took to the stage to do a presentation of “Fear and the Poet in a Three-Part Play”. She was followed by Winona Linn, in from Paris, who gave up four poems with humour and depth and a rolling rhythm that kept the audience captivated and delighted.
With the opening poems under our respective belts Johnny MacRae took over directing the rest of the evening. He reminded everyone that a Poetry Slam is a competition, and that the audience are requested to engage in a lively manner – to celebrate a core group of humanity. If a poet stumbles, snap your fingers, call out, be encouraging. The rules of a poetry slam are simple: there is a 3-minute time limit with a short grace period, but beyond that points are deducted. There are no props, costumes or musical accompaniment. The only sounds must come from the poets’ own voices, and all work must be original.
Before we could begin the competition, however, there was one more requirement – a poet to set the standard for the evening – someone against whom the judges could whet their scorecards. The Sacrificial Poet for the evening was Nicole from Brentwood College; she presented her poem on Anxiety and did so with great merit.
Following her, the poets from each of the four finalist teams presented in rounds – 12 poems in all. They spoke about many things…
shoes and ships and sealing wax, cabbages and kings. No, wait, different story. Never mind. They spoke of race issues, an open letter to my horse, of imagination, an open letter to math, what it is to be proud to be a hijabi, femininity, feminism, politics, humour, connection with strangers, a love poem to Africa, terrorism, depression, medication, perfection, drugs, love and much more. We are continually awed and inspired by these young voices; they have so much to teach us.
Our thanks once again to all of the poets who gave of themselves and to those who continue to inspire and coach them. Our thanks to the other 160 people who joined us that evening, and to the many volunteers who worked behind the scenes to bring it to light, including Logan, SJ, Juniper, Anna, MCD, Sarah, Naomi and Miguel. Thanks also for the support of the CRD Arts Development Service, the BC Arts Council, Tommy Productions and the Retail Action Network for their support.
And above all, thanks to Jeremy for his continued involvement with this. It’s no surprise to us that one of the group presentations was entitled, “Dear Mr. Loveday…”