Every year, slam poets from every corner of Canada gather in a city chosen by Spoken Word Canada (SpoCan) to participate in a week-long competition known as the Canadian Festival of Spoken Word (CFSW).
Several organizations sponsor CFSW in order to make it possible, including the Canada Council for the Arts.
Held in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan in 2012, slam teams this year headed to Montréal, Québec for CFSW 2013, held from November 4 to 9.
The number of teams competing significantly increases every year. The year 2004 marked the first CFSW, and took place in Ottawa, where about eight to ten teams competed.
Since then, the number of teams has increased to 24. It’s amazing to see slam poets coming all the way from Vancouver to Halifax and everywhere in between travel, coming together and converging for the event.
Peterborough’s team consisted of poets Wes Ryan, Carolyn Magee, Jon Hedderwick, Rick Webster, and Kate Kelly. The Peterborough Slam team was chosen after an eight-month season of slams held once a month at The Spill.
The majority of teams stayed at the same hotel during CFSW 2013, which is the tradition. It caters to the spoken-word community and sense of belonging, but also allows for simpler navigation.
This year’s hotel was the L’Appartement, which was situated close to the venues in which the competitions and various events took place.
Along with daily slam bouts, CFSW also runs workshops throughout the week. Some of the workshops this year included Grant Writing, The Art of Performance and Taboo, Career and Community in Spoken Word, and Safer Spaces in Slam, just to name a few!
Despite the amount of preparation, hours of hard work, and emotional strain this week imposes on poets, it is something they look forward to all year. This year’s CFSW was unique because it took place in Montréal and thus added a strong bilingual dynamic.
Each slam poet on every team was required to submit a poem to the organizers, which was then translated for the audience.
Finals night was held on Saturday, November 9, at the gorgeous Rialto Theatre. Extremely old and overwhelmingly beautiful, the theatre was an appropriate choice for this special night.
Jacques Newashish, Atikamekw artist and storyteller, opened with a traditional throat-singing piece that enchanted the audience.
Tanya Evanson and José Acquelin were the poets of honour and took the stage as well.
Evanson’s performance was a mix of dance, spoken word, and singing which was transcendent and inspiring. She triggered a spark in the audience and geared them up for a night of intense emotion, filled with both laughter and tears.
Acquelin’s performance was in French, and resonated even for those who did not understand the language; poetry has a tendency to convey meaning and emotion regardless of language, especially in spoken word.
Persian percussionist Ziya Tabassian accompanied both Evanson and Acquelin.
It was also humbling when this year’s host, Mo Clark, made everyone at the event aware of the indigenous lands beneath our feet, and to make the strong, appropriate acknowledgement of Kanien land, Mohawk territory.
By the finals, four teams had been whittled down from the original 24. Guelph, Toronto, Vancouver, and Saskatoon’s teams went head-to-head.
Saving the best for last, the stage came alive with powerful team pieces and saw some of the strongest slam performances in the nation.
Ultimately, Toronto took the win with Guelph following, a close second.
With the competition coming to an end and all acknowledgments and formalities out of the way, the migratory, dynamic Kalm Unity Vibe Collective hit the stage with improvisations of all styles and genres.
Members from the hip-hop super group Nomadic Massive joined the collective on stage as well.
I cannot stress to you how much bravery it takes for a poet to stand up and perform in front of judges and (quite literally) the entire nation. The semi-finals and finals were live-streamed for all of Canada to witness.
CFSW is expanding every year. The number of teams, the amount of hype, and the level of media exposure is exponentially increasing.
This phenomenon is inspiring, and strongly reflects the role slam poetry plays in terms of representing the voices of our nation. Acknowledgement of Indigenous issues and land are at a forefront, along with the vast spectrum of socio-political concerns.
Amongst all of this, there are dashes of the human condition within the poetry, consisting of love, hate, irony, and all that jazz.
Next year’s Canadian Festival of Spoken Word will be held in Victoria, BC! I can hardly wait.