Poetry slams are a full-contact sport.
They’re bloody and raw. Pros play through injuries – wounds that don’t heal. Troubled families, addictions, racism. They rip off bandages, reveal scars. Their courage is beautiful.
Poetry slams can be funny, blooper reels of misplays, quirky observations about the human condition captured in a Jumbotron flash. Their insights are powerful.
No wonder fans cheer when they’re in play. Because this full-contact sport is about making contact … with us.
Poetry slams are competitive. The poets brave enough to go up on stage get rated on a scale of 1 to 10 by a select group of five audience judges. Three rounds, and the poet with the highest score wins.
David Silverberg and his team have been organizing Toronto Poetry Slam events since 2005, and have found a home at The Drake Hotel.
Poems move off the page and onto the stage here, so words are animated by their creators. It’s performance art, as demonstrated by Faith (a.k.a. Faith Pare). See for yourself in this YouTube video. She’s poetry in motion:
The Toronto events have become so popular that they draw international participants. The night I went, there were poets from the U.S., Australia and the U.K. who all made a bid for top poet on the stage.
Meanwhile, local talents like The Ragdolls, a young, queer girl, spoken-word collective, have become celebrities with hundreds of fans that flock to Toronto Poetry Slam to see, and hear them, perform.
The ultimate winner of the slam on the night I went was Justus (@Justus_forall), who blew the crowd away with his wrenching observations on the ongoing deaths of young black men, the challenge of trying to do right when everything around you is wrong, and the power of love even in dysfunctional families.
Poetry slams are blood and guts. It’s guts the audience demands, and what all the performers demonstrate. As Justus took the top prize, he revealed he’d been late for the Poetry Slam sign-up. He begged for a spot, and was allowed in at the last minute.
He used the anecdote as a symbol of what can happen when you’ll do anything to share what matters to you, even against the odds.
“It’s art, it’s poetry, it’s being vulnerable and sharing it with the world,” he said. “We’re all winners tonight.”
Couldn’t have put it better myself.
Go to www.torontopoetryslam.ca for more information.