Friday, December 15, 2017

Slam poetry spreads throughout Victoria

March 2, 2016 by Alexis Koome, contributing writer

Slam poetry has found its voice in Victoria throughout the last decade. Starting in 2005 as a monthly open-mic night at Solstice Cafe, it is now a staple in the local arts scene. A familiar name within Victoria’s growing poetry community is shayne avec i grec. A member of Victoria’s first slam-poetry team in 2005 and currently the programming director for the Victoria Poetry Project (VPP), he noticed the art form gain momentum through students.

“The first year it was just an open mic once a month that I was attending regularly; then in 2006 I offered up some ideas and ended up at the organizational meeting,” he recalls. “I was on the team in 2005 and coached the team in 2007, then was venue coordinator of CFSW [Canadian Festival of Spoken Word] in 2011, and was basically personal assistant to the festival director in 2012, and then on the Victoria slam team again in 2013.”

In 2003, after catching a video of spoken-word poet Shayne Koyczan on CBC, avec i grec made his way to a fundraising slam Koyczan held at Cafe Du Soleil in Vancouver. He says the blooming Vancouver poetry scene caught his attention at the perfect time.

Local poet shayne avec i grec has seen everything the local slam-poetry scene has to offer, and he loves it (photo provided).

Local poet shayne avec i grec has seen everything the local slam-poetry scene has to offer, and he loves it (photo provided).

“There were so many performers that night who I’ve come to know and who are still hugely involved in poetry. That was pretty much when I started writing, that night, on the bus ride home,” he says. “The slam scene in Victoria was sort of due to the serendipity of the poetry hub instigating an annual event, and my moving over from Vancouver with all these ideas and connections.”

Almost simultaneously, CFSW was born in Ottawa in 2004 as the “spoken wordlympics.” In 2007 Victoria was able to send their team across the country to compete in Halifax. When slam poetry was still new in town, the open mic nights drew a bigger audience than the “competitive” slam nights, where poetry is given a score.

“We’ve sent a team every year since 2007, when we started having regular slams,” says avec i grec. “We went through this interesting inversion where originally people weren’t interested in slamming but wanted [poetry night] Tongues of Fire and the open mic. Now, slam seems to draw a larger crowd than the open-mic nights.”

The network of spoken-word events and happenings are all run under the umbrella of the VPP, which began visiting high schools in 2007. Students started frequenting the poetry events, and they soon became a weekly Thursday-night ritual. By 2012 Tongues of Fire had spread throughout the school district, and the first slam night of every month became reserved for youth poets under the age of 21.

“After doing more outreach and school stuff, we got into the youth slams,” says avec i grec. “A lot of them are comfortable coming out to the regular slams, but some feel a lot more comfortable focusing with their peer group.”

With the influx of student interest in recent years, Victoria became the first Canadian city to elect a Youth Poet Laureate in 2013. Under the mentorship of city councillor and Victoria Poetry Project member Jeremy Loveday, the Youth Poet Laureate performs at Victoria city and youth council meetings and creates a local event geared toward involving other young artists.

“Ann-Bernice Thomas, our Youth slam champion from last year, was our first feature performer for this year’s Youth slam season and is now the current Youth Poet Laureate of Victoria… there’s definitely a trajectory that could be followed even though they don’t have their own festival,” says avec i grec.

Thursday, March 3 is the last chance for poets 21 and under to participate in this season of slam poetry for youth. The night will be held at Solstice Cafe on lower Pandora.

The all-ages slam will be at the same spot on Thursday, March 17, and avec i grec urges all local writers to come down, step up, and speak out.

“It’s a beautiful, beautiful freak show,” he says, “and I love it.”

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