I have a confession to make.
There’s not a chance in this world l could possibly adequately convey to you the events of last night. Don’t blame the beer; it’s not at fault. If you blame anyone, blame the poets and organizers at V.I.P.F. They are too amazing.
Thursday night, the first four bouts of the Canadian Individual Slam Championships took place (hereafter known as the “Indie Slam,” for obvious reasons). Bouts one and two occurred simultaneously in two separate locations. Not having mastered the whole Time Lord thing yet (working on it!), your reporter could not attended all four bouts and so had to satisfy herself with bouts one and four at Eternal Abundance. And dear reader; was she ever satisfied.
First, on the administration of the indie slams: Ten poets were selected randomly for each bout. Using the time-tested technology of paper scraps in a bowl, the order of performance was randomized for each of the two rounds. The first round featured a four-minute piece from each poet; the second, a one-minute poem. Each poem is scored on a scale of one to ten by five judges. A penalty is deducted if a poem runs longer than ten seconds over the stated time limit, at which point the audience gets to heckle the emcee (Sean McGarragle for the first bout; Might Mike McGee for the second) for spoiling our fun with his stodgy old rules (in unison: “You rat bastard! You’re ruining it for everyone! But it was well worth it.”)
Now, the overwhelming problem in all this is the question of judgment. How do you score someone’s soul? How do you assign points to depth of feeling? (The answer is that there is no answer, but you’ve got to judge a competition somehow.)
Let’s not forget: This being a national competition, each poet is excellent. There wasn’t a mediocre poet in the house last night. I will try to showcase the highlights and personal favorites, but I feel as though I do an injustice to those poets I can’t write about, and perhaps even to the ones I will.
How can I communicate the wild physicality of Mike Johnson, or the understated quietude of Sense-Say? How do I describe the chills I get whenever I hear Jillian Christmas’ voice, or tell you how Holly Painter and RC Weslowski almost made me cry? Is there anyway to express the passion radiating off Zaccheus Jackson as he tells a roomful of people the things he can’t tell a lover?
So you see, dearest reader, my problem. You can call my journalistic integrity into question if you wish, but the fact is I simply love too much; I am stirred too easily. My heart broke no fewer than six times last night, and the best I can do is tell you who it broke for.
The first bout: Sense-Say’s delicately delivered piece on the game of chess that is neo-colonialism. Alessandra Naccarato’s adagio for the piano. Jacob Arts’ anxious love stories; aRay of woRds memorial to Chernobyl. Johnny MacRae’s piece on the sheer terror of love. Bout winner Winona Linn’s furor at doubt surrounding her heritage and the painful history of the displacement of the First Nations.
The second bout, widely considered among the poets to be one of the most competitive of the festival in terms of raw talent: Andre Prefontaine’s work on love and abuse. Scott Thompson’s brief and beautiful paean to his parents, who were in the audience. Holly Painter’s chilling tales of the violence our society does to queer women. Aaron Simm’s startling and tender love poem, performed aloud and in American Sign Language. Steve Miller, who was not competing but insisted on yanking on my heartstrings anyway. Bout winner RC Weslowski’s harrowing piece on stolen childhood.
“Poetry is a fearless confrontation of self,” Prefontaine told me before his bout. I’m discovering throughout the course of the week that these confrontations, raw and public and heart-rending, are the some of the most incredible acts of artistic bravery I’ve ever been privileged to witness.
The evening, however, wasn’t all bleary eyes and runny mascara. Plenty of poems were striking for their wit and worldliness. Chris Gilpin delighted me with his protracted phone call complaining about Vancouver’s lack of metropolitan gaiety (a “lack of noise complaint”) and an erotic short poem recited entirely in spoonerisms (no small feat). Erin Dingle upbraiding willpower for being a “very ineffective superhero.” MacRae’s please-stop-stalking-me letter to Google; Linn’s rejection of a potential love interest because their tattoos are “fucking stupid.” Ritallin’s rage against hand sanitizer, and Johnson’s ode to Harold Camping and the apocalypse, done in exuberant sermonic prosody. Jillian Christmas on her stolen bicycle and once again, Weslowski, with his dizzying vociferations on war, shouted Tourette’s-like in motley voices.
After the slam, we had two victorious poets (Winona Linn and RC Weslowski, if you weren’t paying attention) and a creeping sense of despair, so it was time to chug the beers, tip the barkeep and saunter en masse back to Café Deux Soleil, where Duncan Shields and his highly prized collection of geeky T-shirts hosted the late-night Nerd Slam.
Dear reader, it’s time for another confession: I am a bit of a nerd. Turn-ons include science fiction novels from the 1970’s, comic books and the original Dr. Who. And finally, I was not alone! Shields opened the night with pitch-perfect Shakespeare parody (“To geek or not to geek?”), and then eight poets took the stage to compete for prestige and a real! working! lightsaber! (Sort of.)
Personal favorites were Kimmie Roseblade’s list of rules for dating a geek girl and Kyle Mallinson’s celebration of the Dana Scullys of the world. Also worthy of geek-gasms galore was Isaac Bond’s re-appropriation of Lewis Carroll’s “Jabberwocky” and Mighty Mike McGee’s revelation of his superhero persona, Spherical Man. The winner of the evening, determined first by audience applause and then by D20 (that’s a twenty-sided die, for all you non-nerds), was Chris Gilpin.
But the ultimate act at the Nerd Slam was visiting poet The Klute, from Phoenix, Arizona. The Klute takes nerd poetry to a whole new level; I kid you not. I’m pretty sure he does some serious stuff too, but how can you compete with an oration like “Frankenstein’s Monster Speaks to America’s Youth”? Or the evisceration of Scientology that is “Xenu-Phobic”? Or his dork-tastic love letter to April O’Neil, masturbatory fantasy for teenage boys and mutant turtles since 1987? And let it not go without mention that he also performed his stellar “A Letter to the Future from a Conquered America,” which may sound great to you Canadians (hint: you’re the conquerors) but is a truly terrifying prospect for those of us south of the border.
The Klute might be my new favorite roving geek-poet. And I just might have found my people. Can we host Nerd Slams every night now, please? I have a living room you can borrow.
Tune in tomorrow for my dispatch on the Friday night slam-stravaganza and the late-night Erotica Poetry Mic. It will be sexy; it might be nerdy; but it most certainly it will be fun.