A slogan of the International Festival of Authors displayed: “Art without conversation is simply decoration.” This past Friday, at Toronto’s Harbourfront Centre, the Toronto Poetry Slam was one artistic conversation of many to place during this week’s IFOA events. The itinerary for the evening included feature performances from two influential poets from the United Kingdom, Dean Atta and Deanna Roger. Additionally, a spoken-word competition with 13 competitors took place.
Each poet was to perform a spoken-word poem to be scored by five randomly selected judges in the audience. Of the 13, the top six competitors would proceed to the final round. Audience members were encouraged to express their thoughts on each competitor’s performance. Competitors were evaluated based on originality, emotionality, and wording.
To kick off the performances, the audience “called for blood”—a unique slam poetry tradition to request a sacrifice poet. A sacrifice poet is a volunteer who is asked to perform first in order to prepare the audience on the evaluation of performances prior to the actual competition.
“And that’s why I thank God for the catastrophe that gave my dad a new chance to father me,” said Anton Crouton, articulating a poem about the life-changing effects a drunk driving accident had on his alcoholic father. The next poet brought light to changes made by technology, saying that “Even things once sacred can become our greatest distraction, always looking for the latest Instagram caption.”
However, the winner of the competition was a student going by the stage name of Thunderclaw Robinson. Robinson performed a compelling piece about interracial violence, saying, “We’ve got Helen Keller driving the bus, deaf and blind to their own privilege.”
Atta and Roger performed several poems each at the halfway point of the night to share their personal experiences surrounding poetry slams. Atta, named one of the most influential LGBT people in the U.K. by the Wales Online publication of the Pinc List 2017, performed from his latest publication “I am Nobody’s N*gger.” Rogers, a student and friend of Atta’s, proceeded to perform excerpts from her first book.
Atta said, “I enjoy slams. You’ve got to be sharp. It’s all about how you communicate your message.”
As the evening came to a close, Rogers thanked the audience, in true British fashion, “for a bloody amazing night.”