Poetry and spoken word are often used to breach difficult and pressing topics, as was the case at this year’s second semi-final of the Toronto Poetry Slam, held in the Underground of the Drake Hotel in downtown Toronto on January 17. The venue itself is reflective of the aims of the poetry slam: to tell stories. With its welcoming vibe, the Underground was well suited to handle the deep emotion that occurred that night.
Even before the show began, the room was busy, and the crowd seemed ecstatic to welcome the poets. All the energy in the room was shared between the poet and the audience. The poetry slam consisted of two rounds with seven poets, each poet being given the opportunity to perform twice, and four of the poets made it to the finals, which will be held in February. The participants were demographically diverse, yet their stories were all relatable and universal, and their authenticity resonated with the crowd.
The seven poets of the night were Trick, Justin G, Yes, Twiggy Star-Blade, Spin El Poeta, Mofleeka, and Shauna Dimitry. The matters they articulated varied widely, and many tackled large issues such as race, body image, addiction, Canadian politics, gender inequality, abuse, and masculinity.
It’s an admirable feat—facing strangers, judges, family, and friends, and revealing personal, controversial and, at the very least, discussion-worthy details. The poets performed exceptionally well, and many in the crowd were moved by the poets’ ability to express and transmit raw emotions and thoughts. The poets’ capacity to connect with their audience so easily and naturally while maintaining effective body language, intonation, and presentation of their work was astounding.
The semi-finals also included a feature by Cathy Petch, whose many talents include playwriting, poetry, and spoken word. Petch is an influential figure in Canadian poetry and activism, and she seeks and encourages artistic means of expression. She has a collection of what she refers to as “unhuman poems”, which are poems written from the point of view of an inanimate object. One of Petch’s main ideas is that of “othering” of individuals who are not part of the “majority”, or the “norm”, two ideas she tries to challenge in her art. For example, she performed a cover of the famous song “Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)”, written by Sonny Bono. She chose to invert the gender roles in the song in order to use the song to advocate for women’s rights. Nearing the end of her feature, Petch praised spoken word art, expressing that spoken word requires looking at yourself, finding what makes you unique, and talking about what you’re not supposed to talk about.
Spoken word poetry is becoming an increasingly prevalent form of self-expression. One of the artists, Spin El Poeta, said, “I’ve seen art give life to death, freedom to jails, and peace to violence, so I stay giving guidance to the babies for them to write through the pain, soak their papers up with tears, and start all over again… Block it all out and write, write, write, so more than reciting, ignite the fire inside so your light can shine bright.” Poetry is common ground, available to all of us, and an efficient and productive method of catharsis. “When I put fingers to keys, all that matters is I release what’s inside of me.” Spin El Poeta, Trick, Mofleeka, and Justin G did just that—released what’s inside of them—during the semi-finals and made it to the final round.
The finals will be held at the end of February in Bloor Cinema, and tickets are available online now.
This article has been corrected from the print edition. It misspelled the names of the performers Spin El Poeta, Shawna Dimitry, and Mofleeka. A notice will be printed in the February 1, 2016 issue.