The Crow Flies

Winnipeg’s Longest Running Open Mic Soars at New Library Location

In the decade since its inception, Speaking Crow has had a number of locations around Winnipeg.  Founded by Tanis McDonald, the poetry open mic has lived at Frame Arts Warehouse, Pop Sodas (RIP) and now finds its home at the Carol Shields Auditorium in the Millennium Public Library.

“The Library has been really good to us,” says Crow-ordinator Bruce Symaka. “We’re really happy here.”

On the first Tuesday of every month, poets gather to read their original poetry and listen to a featured reader from the community, usually an established page poet (past readers include Margaret Sweatman, Jonathan Ball and Rosanna Deerchild). The night opens with a reading of a “crow poem” before the featured reader delivers a set of their own poetry. After a brief intermission, poets from the audience are allowed the chance to perform their own work.

Symaka notes that each crow brings out new readers, with new writing he hasn’t heard before. “There is so much good writing out there I didn’t know about,” he says. The crow is obviously not only for poets - aside from the usual 10 or so writers who read at the event, a few join the open mic as engaged audience members and poetry lovers, and since moving to the library, this number has grown.

In September the formula will differ slightly from the norm, as the Winnipeg Slam Poetry team will perform a selection of spoken word pieces they normally compete with. The team forms each year out of the winners of the Winnipeg Poetry Slam and competes in slams nation-wide.  This year’s team includes: Ulysses Knope, Steve Currie, Steve Locke and Chimwemwe Undi. Locke, Slam master and team alternate, has been attending Speaking Crow for the last two years in an attempt to “not be a slam poet” for a little while and “just read poetry for the sake of it.”

While many cities hold an antagonistic rivalry between page poets and slam poets, Locke and Symanka agree that doesn’t apply here.

“Winnipeg is a great place for that because that happens in just about every art form,” Locke says. He believes slam is an effective way to introduce poetry to students, with a level of fun and energy that may be lacking in academic study of page poets. Locke also likes the relocation to the Carol Shield Auditorium but insists it’s the community that makes it intimate. The friendly environment allows new readers to share, or even to simply practice how to read poetry in front of a group, and with three minutes, the practice is well worth it.

Published in Volume 68, Number 29 of The Uniter (August 5, 2014)

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