The Toronto International Festival of Authors hosted a poetry slam last Friday night at Lakeside Terrance, Harbourfront Centre. The event featured Canadian National Poetry Slam Champion Jennifer Alicia Murrin. The poetry slam, which involved two elimination rounds, was organized in collaboration with the Toronto Poetry Project. Over the course of the night, local poets presented their slams with triumph as audience members ranked them accordingly.

Poets, who were asked to sign-up half an hour before the 9 p.m. start, brought passion and enthusiasm to the stage. They revelled in sad issues, while also bringing light and laughter to members of the audience.  Murrin presented a set of three poems that focused on her experience being an Indigenous woman. These poems, alongside the submissions of other Toronto poets such as Gavin Russell, made the night noteworthy.

Russell introduced himself in the first round with a poem about children dying, about the war in Syria, and about similar difficult topics. He puts emphasis on his line “before the trees fall, are you listening” during his performance, recontextualizing the cliché “if a tree falls in a forest and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound?” Russell relates this quote back to the “children dying” which he claims people refuse to acknowledge, like the trees in the forest. The spoken-word poem touches on difficult political issues and the resulting social impact. It causes the audience to acknowledge things that are often overlooked. In this way, the poem has an intense effect on the audience, jaws agape, which causes judges to score the poem high eights and nines out of ten.

In the second round, Russell takes his audience back to ground level with a hilarious poem about memes. The slam poet weaves popular culture into his second poem as he exclaimed things like “cracking open a cold one with the boys, because this mans not hot, and I can see it in your eyes, those eyes say damn Gavin, back at it with the stupid f**king poem.” This knee-slapping poem brought bliss to audience members, as they took to snapping and clapping to show their approval.

Russell, among author poets at The Toronto International Festival of Authors, proved that spoken-word poetry can be multi-faceted. While spoken-word can be used to spread awareness, it can also be a way to spread joy and happiness. Poetry slams are a place where you can develop your voice in a safe and accepting environment. The event creates a space for up-and-coming poets within the Toronto writing community to explore their voice.

After tallying the scores, the much-deserved Gavin Russell was awarded the grand prize of two-hundred-and-fifty-dollars alongside a feature in next year’s festival and a guaranteed spot in the Poetry Slam Championships. The remaining three finalists also received prizes including a bamboo toothbrush, a popsicle maker, and a banana holder.

The night rolled to an end with host David Silverberg and the poets on stage. The audience cheered as The Toronto Internation Festival of Authors successfully executed another eye-opening event.