The final four bouts for the Canadian Indie Slam Championships were held last night at Café Deux Soleils and Eternal Abundance. As related yesterday, the bouts are held simultaneously in different locations. Since day four was spent at Eternal Abundance, your reporter decided to hole up at Café Deux Soleils for a change of scenery. The rounds, instead of being four and one minute long, were three and two minutes. There was some overlap of poets, but also some new faces.
Slam poetry was initially conceived as a way to bring poetry out of dusty books and canons of questionable authority and into the spotlight as a living, breathing art. To that end, judges are chosen at random from the audience (with the caveat that they should not be too familiar, personally, with any of the poets) and are given scorecards. The idea is that the audience gives immediate feedback on a work, instead of being expected to passively absorb the poem. The audience is, of course, permitted to heckle judges whose scores they disagree with.
The method of judgment, while vigorously informal and gloriously interactive, also has its drawbacks. Sometimes the judges of different bouts are more or less harsh, less of a problem within the bout itself but could present problems when comparing a two-day competition, like this one.
Score-creep is another common issue slammers have with the system: as the night goes on, morale improves and various beverages may start to take effect. Often, poets later on in the bout will receive higher scores than those in the beginning. Just like class presentations in grade school, no one wants to go first.
And sometimes the judges have no taste at all.
The two bouts I observed at Café Deux Soleils may have been experiencing this difficulty. While I more or less agreed with the winners they eventually selected, I found myself more often than not disagreeing with them. After the bouts, two young poets from the competition explained that the issue of subjectivity in artistic works means that sometimes, a poem will just strike people differently.
It makes sense I suppose, but I can’t help but think back to what Andre Prefontaine told me yesterday: “A poet should strike a human chord.”
So who struck my chords yesterday, you ask? Again, everyone, all the time. Bouts five and seven were, generally speaking, much more lighthearted (or at least less tear jerking) than the bouts last night.
That being said, RC Weslowski did make me cry again with his fervid rage and barely buried pain. Winner of the first round, his work was one of the few points on which I and the judges agreed.
The works of the night took on a sharper edge than they did on Thursday. Perhaps it was the pervasive sense that tonight was do-or-die for the poets, as only ten of the forty poets would progress to the next round. Many were socially minded (Zaccheus Jackson’s impassioned story of a teenaged prostitute and Fannon’s piece on Emmett Till and the destructive nature of hate to the human spirit were shining examples in the first round) and most performances took on a heady, feverish quality, as if the poetry would burst through the skin of the speakers and dance naked for the room.
In some cases, the poet nearly did- Mike Johnson’s riveting theatricality took him offstage, wandering through the tables, twirling and shouting with marvelous abandon. The frenetic velocity was upheld through the show, particularly during the socially and politically minded pieces. An animated Colin Matty won the round with his tongue-in-cheek prayer to the “Lord Almighty T.V.”, following on the heels of a similarly minded and equally vivid piece by Weslowski on Fox-induced paranoia. Johnson’s political piece was also dizzingly delightful, a crazed and ardent love letter (sort of) to Stephen Harper.
In a interesting turn, there were also poems performed about the nature of slam itself, notably Kayla Fraser’s engrossing piece on the “poetry game” that starts with the poet signing slightly altered version of that old baseball tune, and round-winner Fannon’s fiery admonition: “Poet throw down.” Jackson impressed with an eviscerating take on the ordeal of judgment.
There were some first bout standouts that were a little less heated, but not less brilliant: Ritallin’s quietly seething work on the way society breaks artists and true individuals (“the beautifully brave”); Scott Thompson’s seductive film noir love poem and Tom Fowler’s surreal panegyric to Sasha Grey.
The second bout maintained the fierceness of the energy and the diversity in themes. New judges were chosen, but for the most part I found my tastes only marginally more aligned with theirs.
Modern tensions between romance and misogyny came up a surprising amount with some of the male performers, in the first round by young talent Jacob Arts and in the second by Matthew Christopher Davidson, whose piece, “dedicated to the students in [his] women’s studies class,” managed to be clever and biting while maintaining the sweet romanticism oft attributed to poets and lovers. Plus, he gave us a pick-up line that I believe should be brought into common usage: “Damn, person, you are fine.”
Winona Linn again wildly swung her poetry from movingly personal to utterly hilarious (to her college roommate: “I am tired of hearing you fuck!”). Johnny Macrae won the first round for his deliriously unhinged soapbox for salad; Jeremy Loveday secured the second with a exceptionally entertaining letter to his dear former friend, death metal.
The travails of writing were on display again: Daniel Mark Patterson’s compelling angst and Jacob Arts’ bold gutting of spoken word clichés. A current of tragic romance, too: Sense-Say’s ineffable tribute to young love; Davidson’s heart-wrenching poem on a relationships becoming a war of attrition; and calibration poet Dana “D.E.” Matthews’ amazing start to round two, about a love who is “fucked up beautiful.”
Other personal favorites, thematically indescribable but superbly executed, were Knowmadic’s first-round ode to Africa and Sense-Say’s gorgeously harrowing piece on a drive-by, which was at once social commentary and an acute personal exploration of senseless death.
The poets stepped up their games in a major way last night, and all competitors deserve to be congratulated on their creativity, fearlessness and passion.
The late-night erotica slam was an excellent way to unwind after such an intense competition. Incoming slam master Jessica Mason-Paull and poet Erich Haygun hosted a bawdy show rife with innuendo, strip-tease and just a little water-bowling (for an explanation the latter, please see my dispatch from Poets’ Delight). Poets competed for audience applause and a painting (last night’s Nerd Slam winner, Chris Gilpin, was again victorious).
The feel at Café Deux Soleil was euphoric and rowdy. The alleviation of competitive pressure allowed poets, hosts and the generally sexual to let their hair down and, in the case of nearly every performer that night, take their shirt off. (“No nudity” is, unfortunately, a rule of the official competition, but is gleefully flaunted during the erotica showcase.)
Sarah Walter’s stimulating piece on the lack of satisfying porn was a perfect start the evening. Davidson and Ottawa poet Loh’El gave performances that were sweetly sexy. Some poems were devoted to inanimate objects (with great effect: Shayna Stock to her bicycle; 2 Dope Boys in a Cadillac, hilariously, to bacon). Patterson’s brainy (and fabulously anatomical) “Fat Nerd Manifesto” also didn’t fail to please.
Though Gilpin may have been the victor, I am inclined to think that it was Mason-Paull who won the evening. The strikingly beautiful hostess was the subject of not one, but two erotic poems: one by Haygun (her partner onstage and in life), and Gilpin’s poem. I really, really can’t describe Gilpin’s piece, but suffice to say that it begins “One day… a phallus will sprout from between the thighs of Jessical Mason-Paull.” Really, it just got better from there. (Or worse, depending on your perspective.)
The climax, however, is still coming. Saturday night is the culmination of the festival, where the Canadian Individual Slam Champion will be named! See the final ten poets (Loh’El, Fannon, RC Weslowski, Winona Linn, Alessandra Naccarato, Ryan Thom, Jen Kunlire, Ritallin, Colin Matty and Matthew Christopher Davidson) compete at the Rio Theatre for the national title in what should be a rousing performance.