Where the poets are

Canadian Festival of Spoken Word comes to Winnipeg

Enthusiasts and beginners alike will have a chance to take in slam poets from across Canada in Winnipeg at the Canadian Festival of Spoken Word.

“The main core of the festival is the Canadian National Championships for Slam Poetry,” Steve Currie, festival director in Winnipeg, says. 

This year is a first for Winnipeg, because the championships will be held here for the first time. Shows, workshops and after-parties will take place from Oct. 23 to 30 in local downtown venues as part of the festival.

Though Currie says Winnipeg has a fairly developed scene and has had success with festivals in the past, this is the first time it’s been able to host a larger event such as the championships.

“Compared to say Toronto or Vancouver, we are a smaller market, a smaller scene,” he says. “We didn’t have the audience or really the capacity to do it before.”

Currie says after starting up a Winnipeg Spoken Word Festival two years ago, there’s been expansion in local interest. 

“Since then, we’ve seen our scene from being 20 to 30 people and teams, who were basically the same people going every year, to 40- or 50-person audiences and a way bigger variety of performers,” he says.

Larysa Musick will represent Winnipeg in the championships for her second year. She says she found the scene very welcoming. She had been embarrassed about the poems she wrote in high school until an English teacher encouraged her to share them.

“I showed up, didn’t know any of the rules and read a five-minute poem when the rule is that they’re supposed to be three minutes,” she says. “But the community greeted me with open arms, and I’ve been doing it since.”

Currie says people don’t always consider poetry events when thinking of ways to spend an evening.

“It’s not a question of ‘Winnipeg doesn’t like performance,’” he says. “I think it’s mostly that people who have never been to a contemporary poetry show and seen what can be done and what people are doing with the art don’t really know what to expect.”

Musick says spoken word can be a great starting point for people who don’t know much about poetry.

While works published in literary journals are often critiqued by literary scholars, spoken word is more open, as the audience scores the poems at a slam, she says.

“The audience can range from people who have never read poetry before to people who read it all the time, to random people who walk in from the RBC across the street. It can be anyone who gives you a score,” Musick says. She finds spoken word poetry easier to digest for beginners, as the language is more conversational.

For people who are new to spoken word, now is the time to take a chance and let the poets know the score.

Canadian Festival of Spoken Word takes place from Oct. 23 to 30. Cover for shows starts at $5, and a festival pass is $40. Buy tickets and check out a full line-up at cfsw.ca.

Published in Volume 71, Number 7 of The Uniter (October 20, 2016)

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