What the hell is wrong with the spoken word poetry scene in Victoria? It never ceases to hit literary, urban, modern — nay, postmodern — nails on the head. It also never ceases to systematically disassemble my heart and humour, only to delicately reassemble it and place it back, warm and truthful in its home under my ribs.
The first-ever Victoria Spoken Word Festival took place from Feb. 24 to 16 at the spoken word community’s favorite haunt, Solstice Café, and inside the intimate walls of Intrepid Theatre.
“This is the first poetry ensemble in Canada, to my knowledge,” said Missie Peters, the festival’s director and a local spoken word artist. “The concept was for me to bring 10 poets together, four from Victoria, four from Vancouver, one from Calgary and one from Ottawa. I wanted to bring them together and allow them to become a cohesive unit. They’re already talented, but now they’ve been given the space to create something that is on the edge of spoken word, because I feel we really need to push the boundary of this art form, otherwise we’re going to ossify.”
In 2009, Victoria hosted the National Spoken Word Festival, witnessing 12 teams from across Canada release over 70 feral poets into the streets of the city. The Victoria Spoken Word festival was an energetic sequel to the lyrical power of the National Festival. The walls of Intrepid Theatre couldn’t contain the creativity that was erupting from these 10 poets. Poets smoking under the streetlights after the show were unable to turn off the muse, proceeding to freestyle beautiful and grotesque poems with each other as departing audiences shook their heads in disbelief.
“That’s the first time I’ve ever done that,” said Proof-Rock, the 2009 National Spoken Word Champion from Ottawa. “Coming in to the festival, no one really knew what to expect. We came together and were like, what can we produce? What can we do, taking elements of things that we all have individually and make it a cohesive production as a group? That’s what the festival is about.”
Spoken Word is harmonized with a lot of subject matters that don’t have much space in modern public spheres, and provides a safe and fiery avenue for issues around social justice, existential being, queer theory, counterculture, homosexuality and heterosexuality, young and old, street and alley lifestyles, as well as traditional expressions of love, remorse, grief and beauty.
“Spoken word saved my life,” announced Nat Spadez from Vancouver, summing up the medium’s power.
Peters says that the festival was “somewhere between a Shakespearian soliloquy and a freestyle rap.”
“You can think of those two as the ends of the spectrum,” she explained. “Spoken Word is like a verbal vomit at times . . . Personally I like to find the beauty in the mundane. It’s about finding poetry in the most ordinary moment.”
Vancouver’s RC Weslowski, the festival’s poet of honour, shook the etiquette out of the audience right off the bat with a waterfall of the nastiest expressions and words uttered, only to tie the end of his initial poem together with an explanation that cursing is a means to demand that the gods come down to our level. Two middle-aged women fumbled past me on their way out, only moments after they had snuggled into their seats.
The last night of the festival was something I’ve never seen in a poetry performance, and dabbled in a side of theatre that even modern theatre performances have seemingly forgotten. The poetry ensemble entered through a poetic back door of theatre and were able to deliver a marvelous critique of modern hyper media-culture, and then seamlessly tag-teamed a running poem where the poets overlapped each others performances.
“I’m so proud of these poets. We’re talking about pushing to the edge of the art forms. And that’s scary fucking shit. So I’m so, so proud of them for going there,” said Peters.