Last week marked the 8th annual Victorious Voices Festival here in Victoria! We missed the first two years, but we’ve been stalwart supporters of the event ever since. If you want to read our previous posts on this amazing creative blending of people and talents, you can find them here. Back in 2013 Mike wrote his first (and so far, only) slam poetry piece in honour of the courage of the many young people who perform during this event. If you’re interested, you can find that here.
So, what is Victorious Voices? From one perspective it’s a series of competitions, performances and workshops on spoken word poetry created by Victoria high school students and held within the space of a week, every April. But it’s much more than that. It’s countless hours of writing and learning, months of forming thoughts into words, chasing them around and encouraging them to line up in some semblance of order, endless practice in front of a mirror, getting beyond the terror of speaking one’s truth to the world and being brave enough to show who you are. It’s not only discovering that you have a voice, but learning that what you think, what you feel and what you say matters. It’s learning to become wholly who you Are.
Before we continue, we need to thank and acknowledge a large group of people involved with this event, from Jeremy Loveday, Elysia Glover and Johnny MacRae of the Victoria Poetry Project for starting this and keeping it going all these years, to the coaches in the various schools, those who have provided workshops and events, those who have provided money, sound, art, lighting, event booking, ticket sales, and those who have provided support, encouragement and a willing ear. You’re all a part of making this happen and Victorious Voices continues to grow – spreading into the Cowichan Valley for the first time this year. Thanks also to the celebrity judges, who bravely faced boos, taunts and (sometimes) cheers for the various performances. There were five judges this year: Sage LaCerte, with the Moosehide Campaign, Dane Roberts, director of the Victoria Ska and Reggae Festival, Victoria’s Artist in Residence Luke Ramsey, Adrian Chalifour from the band Towers and Trees, and Maita Cienska, Victoria’s Youth Poet Laureate.
The rules for Spoken Word Poetry competitions are few and simple. Each artist must perform his/her own original work (reading is okay), no props are allowed and each performance must last no longer than 3 minutes. A 10-second grace period is allowed, after which a time penalty is deducted from the score. The poor timekeeper gets berated the worst of anyone (but it’s all in good fun).
There’s more, though. The role of the poets is to be accountable to their audience, to present their words and their values in good faith. The role of the audience is more than to be passive receptors of this. The audience creates a safety net, a loving framework to support the artists in their performance. Together artists and audience create a sacred space.
The evening started with this year’s Alumnus of Honour, Sam Ferraby, a graduate from Glenlyon Norfolk School. He offered three pieces, including an homage to paperclips! The Feature Performer for the evening was Isaac Bond, joining us all the way from Saskatoon. Isaac presented five poems; his first was a tribute to the South Saskatchewan River, and the last was an ongoing biography… a poem that can be endlessly added to and rewritten.
There were nine teams from seven different schools in the semi-finals on Tuesday evening: Belmont Secondary, Brentwood College, Chemainus Secondary, Esquimalt High School, Maria Montessori Academy, Pearson College and Reynolds Secondary. The teams from Maria Montessori Academy, two teams from Pearson College and one team from Reynolds Secondary came together for the finals competition on Wednesday. John Trinh from the Verses Festival in Vancouver served as MC for the night and he did a wonderful job!
There were five rounds of individual performances from each school, followed by a team poetry round, but before the competition could get underway we needed one more element: the Sacrificial Poet – the person upon whom the judges could whet their scorecards. Elysia Glover took that role, performing a piece about trying to recover someone lost inside themselves. Poignant and beautiful.
As always, when the students took the stage we were awed by their generosity, their humour, their power and their pain. The first poet spoke about his dreams of another boy – the perfect boy, but coupled that with fears of mockery and rejection. He stayed silent instead. Poets spoke about war, about slavery, about assault and about death. They spoke about politics, a love/hate relationship with a toaster, the future of the environment and about a disposable toothbrush. There was a poem on fear of pregnancy, about biology, about chemistry and about extroverts and introverts. There was truth, and there was beauty.
By the end of the evening we were both elated and moved. In the end there was a winner, of course, but to us all 21 poets on that stage are winners. We salute you.
P.S. Why do we continue to show up to this event year after year? In part because of this:
“Sometimes I’d start crying in class for no reason. Then when I got home from school, I’d just go straight to my room. I couldn’t even talk to my mom about it because I’d just start crying. People would tell me: ‘Just get up, exercise, and take a walk.’ But none of that helped. Things got so bad that even the school was watching me. I started bawling during a chemistry exam and I ended up in the school psychologist office. I remember thinking: ‘I don’t care if I ever see another chemistry exam again. Or my friends. Or my mom.’ And I started to get this feeling that I was definitely going to do it. I was going to lock myself in my room that night and take a bunch of pills. The only thing that stopped me was imagining my mom finding my body. That was three years ago. That time seems so far away now. I found a great therapist. I learned so much about myself. There’s so much that I want to do now. I want to travel. I want to get married. I want to have kids. There are so many poems that I haven’t written and songs I haven’t heard. So it’s terrifying for me to think that I came so close. My problems were small back then. They were teenage problems. But I came one step away from not being. And I had made the decision to take that step. I’m afraid that I can go back to that place again. And next time, my problems will probably not be so small.”(Bogotá, Colombia)
(from the Humans of New York Tumblr site)