Sunday, September 12, 2010

Raise It (again)

CFSW is coming! CFSW is coming!

The first time I ever attended a slam was at the first Canadian Festival of Spoken Word, which was held here in Ottawa at Library and Archives Canada. I've written about the experience before - I'd never seen or heard anything like it. The energy level was amazing - in fact, after one session I remember walking out of the theatre slightly stunned, getting myself home and then just heading to my room to lie down on my bed, feeling like I'd just run a marathon.

It was the idea of people jumping to their feet screaming like rock concert fans, for poetry, that really grabbed me. There was one moment when the judges apparently didn't love someone's piece as much as the audience did, and there was an eruption of 'boo's' for the judges, and then I vividly recall the standing ovation in defiance of the points awarded, where the whole audience clapped and cheered and turned to face the poet as he went back to his seat in the auditorium, and had to be quieted down eventually by the host.

After that, I started seeing Capital Slam ramping up in Ottawa, and slams jumped up all over the country, and a spoken word scene developed, particularly here, that was tight-knit, passionate, and thriving. But it wasn't just Ottawa, it was thriving all over the country. CBC started their Poetry Face-Off contest. From Vancouver to Halifax, poets started popping out of the woodwork. And climbing into vans to drive to each other's cities to perform and crash on other poets' couches. And organizing event after event. I kept thinking that eventually a critical mass would be reached, and we'd reach what the market in Ottawa could bear for competitive spoken word. But it didn't seem to be happening. Then other slams and slam-style performance series started appearing. The Onenesss Poetry Showcase at the East African Restaurant. Urban Legends at Carleton University. Bill Brown's 1-2-3 Slam. Voices of Venus, the women's spoken word series. OutSpoken featured queer spoken word during Pride Week. Lanark Country got a slam series after the inimitable Danielle Grégoire moved to Almonte and started a writing workshop. There are spoken word workshops happening all over, particularly the ongoing Ingredients workshop at Umi Cafe. And Ottawa's slam team took home the gold at the last CFSW, and one of its members, Ian Keteku, recently became the World Spoken Word Champion in Paris.

Oh, yeah, and the Canadian Olympic Committee decided to feature Vancouver poet Shane Koyczan in the Opening Ceremonies this winter. So, a spoken word poet made up part of an international showcase of Canada.

So now CFSW is coming back to Ottawa from October 12-16 (it moves locations from city to city across the country) with all the momentum it's built up, and bringing with it a nation-wide community of people who generally all know, respect, admire and learn from each other. If you haven't heard spoken word before, this would be the place to do it: the best in the country, giving it their best, and an audience that is beyond excited about being there.

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