Last week Toronto turned into poetry central for the Canadian Festival of Spoken Word.  I was on the Up From The Roots Team with my teammates, Dwayne Morgan, Tomy Bewick and Shoolie, representing Toronto on our home turf.  It was a rough start to the competition – as I biked over to the Drake for registration I ran a red and a cop car pulled me over.  It was a painful ten minutes as they proceeded to lecture me over the importance of biking responsibly (rightfully so) but all I was thinking was “my team is waiting for me!”  I got let off the hook with a stern warning and finally made it to the Drake where my heart became happy again once I saw so many people that I love under one roof.  Later on that night, our team got eaten alive in the preliminary bout (aka the bout of death) with Edmonton, Saskatoon and Kingston.  We lost and our spirits were pretty low.

Tomy B and Dwayne Morgan (team UFTR – Toronto) – photo cred: Michelle Darby-Wyatt

Thursday night we had to pull out all of best team pieces, that we were hoping to save for semis and finals, just to make a come- back and move forward in the competition. We won the bout and landed a spot in semi finals and then finals. On finals night, we sent up Tomy first…his piece was extremely heavy and we embraced him with much love after he came off the stage. It was a really raw moment for all of us. At one point in the night, Urban Legends from Ottawa pulled out this poem and it blew the roof of the place.

Dwayne and I did our mirror poem and got a standing ovation. Must give full credit to Dwayne for the concept behind this poem, it took us a long time to get the execution of it down with precision. After the scores were calculated, we could not have been more happy to take second place next to team Edmonton.

Ziy (team Peterborough Poetry Slam) – photo cred: Michelle Darby-Wyatt

It was not so much about how we ranked in the competition as much as it was the experience of being part of such an incredible and supportive team; the tears the hugs the pep talks, the jokes. I feel truly blessed and proud to be part of the 2011 UFTR slam team. I also feel incredibly thankful for all the support we got along the way. Special shout out to our honorary team member, Eddy Da Original One.  Thanks to Natalie Fraser for always coming through. Patrick De Belen, our alternate, is amazing and won the alt slam! And all those who offered us feedback and came to our bouts to cheers us on – thank you.

 UFTR 2011 Slam Team – Photo cred: Ruzanna Shortstuffyan

CFSW of course is not all about the slam. The week was filled with showcases and workshops, one of which was the Slam as Safe Space workshop, which I led with the help of Alessandra Naccarato. It proved to be a necessary but frustrating workshop, there are so, so many issues to discuss and 2 hours in not nearly enough time to come up with comprehensive solutions to some issues within the slam community.  Myself and Lisa B were nominated as committee leads for the Caucus on Gender Issues in the SpoCan board meeting, so I hope to continue this discussion on an ongoing basis.

Just Jamaal (team Ottawa Urban Legends) – photo cred: Michelle Darby-Wyatt

“And when I’m done raising my children, I want them to blossom in full bloom like a full moon…” Father of four – beautiful poem.

My favorite event on the whole festival was Underground Indies. We were located in an old bike shop turned theatre, through an alleyway and the room was alive with poetry until 3.30am. Slam vet Ian Keteku and MC/educator extraordinaire, Testament, kept the slam on point all night. Highlights included the slam off between RC Weslowski and Electric Jon. As well as the slam off between PrufRock and Hyfidelik from the same slam team. At the end of the night it was an intense last round between RC, Johnny MacRae and Knowmadic but Johnny with his purple pants and beautiful words took home the big bucks. Special thanks to those who came early to help set up, Michelle for her patience and the use of her vehicle to get stuff to the venue, and Mary for helping out with the $ and with life in general. I was pretty happy to receive a certificate for the poet’s choice award for best festival event, although I hear the youth slam was absolutely phenomenal as well.

 Sonya Littlejohn and Jillian Christmas (team Black Dot Roots Collective – Vancouver) –  photo cred: Michelle Darby-Wyatt

This festival for me is about the two things I love most in the world: poetry and people. From Mary Pinkoski’s words that break hearts then puts them back together, to my post-slam dance partners Bethanne, Liv and Kiki, to Mo Clark talking sisterhood through whiskey shots, to my teammates teaching me so many lessons…I carry all this and more with me as I write myself forward.

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