Friday, April 23, 2010


It's National Poetry Month, so every Friday in April I'm writing something about Canadian Poetry.

Hold onto your hats: The
Toronto Poetry Slam finals are tomorrow night. And if you're into slam, that's kind of a big deal. The finals decide who will make up this year's TPS team (four plus one alternate) and therefore, who will represent Toronto at the Canadian Festival of Spoken Word.

Slam is basically performance poetry. A TPS slam event usually features 12 poets, all of whom perform and are subsequently scored during the first round. The top six poets then progress to the second round, in which they perform something else. In the third round, the top three poets compete for the win. There are always prizes (ranging from gift certificates to X-Files DVDs), but they're sort of the icing on the poetry cake.

Slam is a little raucous - audience members are encouraged not to be quiet - and it is a competition, which some people take issue with. There is a contingent of more traditional poets who don't approve of slam's poetry-as-competition format; a position that has caused some heated debate (page vs. stage, if you will).

I guess I can see both sides of it, but to claim that poetry is never performance is just nonsense. Any time poetry is read aloud as a form of diversion or entertainment, it is being performed. And as for the competition aspect, well, I've certainly entered more than one poetry competition in my life and I never thought that made what I wrote less than poetry.

So, slam comes down to a matter of preference. It's a genre of poetry, which - if the Canadian Festival of Spoken Word is any proof - has been largely welcomed in Canada. I mean, we even had slam poet Shane Koyczan perform at the Olympics in Vancouver.

So, if you want page poetry, you can have it; if you want stage poetry, slam is growing in popularity all across the country; and, if you're like me and you want both, even that isn't a necessarily a contradiction in taste.

Image used: a live-painting (done on stage) entitled Canadian Festival of Spoken Word by Sharon Hodgson

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