The innate human need to express ourselves through the written word has existed for almost as long as language itself. This written art form has been used to express a vast spectrum of emotion in ways that aren’t necessarily restricted to the formalities of classical literature. This liberty of creative expression has led to countless derivations of classical poetry.
One form that has begun to emerge with increasing popularity is spoken word poetry. Spoken word poetry uniquely combines wordplay, storytelling, and performance, including gestures, tones, and facial expressions to create an amalgamation of sensory stimulation that captivates audiences. The movement of modern North American spoken word poetry was born in Harlem through the poetry of the Harlem Renaissance, and has its roots in politicized African-American communities there.
Spoken word has since become wildly popular and is now a worldwide phenomenon. Poetry has long been an integral part of Peterborough’s local arts scene, and we are proud to have our very own homegrown team. This year, the exceptionally talented Peterborough Poetry Slam Team, consisting of members Jon Hedderwick, Sasha Patterson, Xandra Leigh, Jasher Guiel, and Ziy von B, will be representing our small but creatively robust city at the Canadian Festival of Spoken Word in Saskatoon from October 18-25.
The poets have been hard at work preparing for this prestigious event. Peterborough Slam Poetry Team member, Sasha Patterson, remarks, “November marks the 9th year that the Peterborough Poetry Collective has been around. The Collective is made up of a small group of poets and organizers who put on monthly slam poetry competitions and workshops throughout the year. In May of this year we had our team finals where a bunch of poets competed to win a spot on the 2015 team. The top five poets were Jon Hedderwick, Ziy Von B, Xandra Leigh, Jasher Guiel and myself. We’ve been rehearsing two days a week since June, competed at the provincial Slamtario competition in July and placed 3rd, and are now headed to Saskatoon on Friday to compete at the Canadian Festival of Spoken Word, a competition that happens every year in a different Canadian city.
Spoken word has become the tool used by systemically marginalized populations subordinated into existing power structures to voice emotionally charged political protest outside of academic institutions and small press. It has created an intentional space and community that celebrates subversive identities and politics. The team’s gofundme page explains:
“This year’s Peterborough Poetry Slam team offers a unique approach to poetry, exploring themes such as love, betrayal, international development, fascism, identity, gender, body politics, and the zombie apocalypse.” While humorous, it speaks to the importance of the political dynamics that are common in this art form, which truly gives meaning to the phrase, “the personal is political.”
The team is well acquainted with the implications this accessible form of personal expression is, as they state, “We have seen first-hand how poetry has saved people’s lives, started vital conversations, forged connections, and inspired new ways of thinking and being in the world.
The next Peterborough Poetry Slam open mike is on October 22 at The Spill, with feature poet Rick Webster. Everyone is welcome to participate and perform. Sign-up starts at 7:30pm, and the event starts at 8:00 pm.