Slam poets Andre Prefontaine and Sabrina Benaim came to UTM earlier this month at a poetry masterclass EDSS held for students.

Prefontaine is a slam poet from Calgary who won the 2012 Canadian Underground Slam Championship and captained the Calgary slam team, leading them to fourth place in the Canadian Festival of Spoken Word. Benaim, whose poem “Explaining my Depression to my Mother” has over 1,000,000 views on YouTube, was part of the Toronto Slam Team, which won the national slam poetry championship in October. She will also represent Toronto in New Mexico at the Women of the World Poetry Slam.

The afternoon began with a workshop at which students shared their writing. Prefontaine encouraged the “first thought, best thought” principle for students who had trouble coming up with ideas. He said that writers should never sit down and tell themselves that they’re writing a poem; writers should sit down and write something meaningful to them without getting stuck on expectations.

Before the students went on to read their pieces, Prefontaine warned them about the downside of slam poetry: the judges. He referred to them as being like icebergs, frigid and stoic.

In Prefontaine’s opinion, words like “emotion”, “soul”, and “resolution” should be avoided because they’re words for which people have preassociated images. A slam poet needs to ask herself, “What are you getting at?” and try to move past the surface meanings of the words.

Benaim stepped in to add that poets need to focus on matching the performance to the words. “The intention of what you mean and the delivery of the sentences need to work as one,” she said.

In preparation for the workshop, Prefontaine and Benaim delivered some of their poems first, each reading two and taking turns reciting their pieces. Prefontaine, who specializes in character pieces, went first with his poem about Rob Ford and his “mistress”—crack. Benaim went next with “Glass Girl”, a poem that characterized a young boy as a big bad wolf responsible for breaking down a young girl’s self-esteem. Prefontaine’s next poem described an abusive childhood and whether people are born or raised as monsters. Benaim concluded with a poem about the differences between the narrator and a boy in her life.

The audience members were then allowed to share their pieces and receive critique on their poem and their delivery. The first poem discussed stereotypes about black youth and was very well received by the crowd. His piece prompted Prefontaine and Benaim to share advice on knowing your musical “bars” and using them to evoke emotion.

Two more girls got up from the crowd to share their pieces, one being “The Queen”, which discussed the beauty standards expected of women. Prefontaine cheered on various lines and the students erupted in applause when she was done.

The afternoon finished with Benaim and Prefontaine offering some final advice for slam poets who want to attend any contests or improve their skills.