Peterborough Poetry Slam: March Slam featuring Mona Mousa

Mona Mousa performs at the Peterborough Poetry Slam at the Sapphire Room on March 27, 2019. Photo by Sarah Cockins.

In honour of International Women’s Day, the March edition of the Peterborough Poetry Slam featured Mona Mousa, a spoken word poet and motivational speaker. Mousa has actively toured and taught in places such as the University of Hawaii, Yellowknife, and Chicago. Mousa’s work is situated around themes of identity and race politics, gender and sexual diversity, and femme visibility.

A poetry slam is a competitive performance where poetry is judged by randomly selected members of the audience. The Peterborough Poetry Slam welcomes all forms, styles, and genres of poems The event took place on March 27 in The Sapphire Room from 8 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. Doors opened with an optional open mic sign-up starting at 7:30 p.m., with an entrance fee of $5 to $10 or pay-what-you-can (PWYC) per person; the event stated, however, that no one would be turned away for lack of funds.

Jon Hedderwick introduced the poets performing that night and provided a short list of rules. The slam allowed free speech, but no hate speech. Hedderwick provided the audience with a trigger warning, indicating that there was always at least one trained active listener at every event in case anyone became overwhelmed. Hedderwick reminded the audience about consent and to respect everyone’s gender, including pronouns, and acknowledged the fact that we were on stolen land and proceeded with a moment of silence.

The rules for the competition were straightforward: there would be five judges who would judge on a scale from zero to ten with decimals. The audience could sway the judges by cheering or booing. Poems were to be no longer than three minutes long, or else points would be deducted for every 10 seconds lapsed. Music and props were not allowed, with the exception of service animals or assistive devices. The order of poets would be drawn at random, then the order would be reversed in the second round to avoid the “scourge of score creep.”

The first round of the open mic consisted of six poets who each received high scores and generous applause from the audience. At the end of the first round, Mona Mousa was invited to the stage.

11 years into her poetry career, this slam was Mousa’s second-to-last performance “ever.” Mousa said her mission was to empower communities “to engage in this profession.” Mousa told the audience that she would be pursuing a degree in interior design after her final performance. Mousa read several poems with common themes centred on politics, race, and gender, and how they intersect. One, titled “A Woman’s Worth,” explored an invasive question Mousa received from a journalist who questioned her about being a mother one day.
A second round of the open mic followed Mousa’s performance. The night ended with the judges tallying up the scores and declaring the competition’s finalists.

Formed in 2007, The Peterborough Poetry Slam Collective presents the monthly Peterborough Poetry Slam Series, with an aim to create accessible, safer spaces dedicated to the creation and performance of poetry. The Peterborough Poetry Slam offers an inclusive environment “where often-marginalized voices have an accessible space and are encouraged to speak.” The series is open to featuring experimental and new works while increasing the quality of spoken word poetry in the community, encouraging and promoting poetry performances that are engaging, interactive, and informative.

April is National Poetry Writing Month, and the Peterborough Poetry Slam is encouraging aspiring and experienced poets to join a #30in30; 30 poems in 30 days. The Peterborough Poetry Slam will be posting daily prompts on their Facebook page, with the goal to get people writing.