The benefits of attending a poetry slam
An open book by Taylor Balfour
When I had the luxurious offer of being able to attend a poetry slam in Vancouver lastweek Monday, I needed to take it. Better yet, I was being invited by avid members of the poetry slam community – people who had not only judged events but had read their work at previous slams as well – who knew the event by heart.
I’ve only been to this one event, but I have to say it feels like I know the event by heart as well.
Vancouver Poetry Slam, known as a project through the Vancouver Poetry House, is a non-profit organization that’s been running since 1996, “making it the longest-running poetry slam in Canada” according to their website.
And it was at that three-hour event of beauty that I realized how much I would miss poetry slam nights when I returned home – and believe me, I’ve only been here for a few days and I miss it immensely – but not just for the act of reading poetry. It’s the experience and atmosphere, I argue, that is the biggest takeaway from the night.
The poetry scene in Vancouver is extremely progressive, aware, powerful, and exactly what I feel as though our city needs: an event that celebrates diversity, that celebrates diversity and social-justice, and provides creatives a space to bare their soul and not be attacked for doing so. I think by offering people such a vulnerable, accepting, healthy space, it could do our city, let alone our creative scene, a lot of good.
Our event started off with a recognition of the land, and acknowledging that Vancouver rests on stolen land that was never negotiated over a treaty. “Just be a good ally,” was a common statement from our host during the night. The words were also uttered following “support black artists” after the featured poet, Nisha Patel, did readings from her latest poetry book, I See You.
It was uttered following a power spoken word poem about the state of the environment and the Wet’suwet’en pipeline protests. It was uttered when a gender-fluid member of the crowd read a piece about not being confined to the world’s gendered boxes.
Poetry is vulnerable and reading aloud to a room of people is one of the most powerful experiences I’ve had with an audience. You are translating complex feelings and details, dressing them in the prettiest of words, and baring them aloud to a room full of strangers, hoping your words can offer them a connection, a means of understanding a stranger through nothing but painting a picture with words.
Because of such vulnerability, the audience must be warm and receptive, welcoming and open. The space encourages others to share. Newcomers, who have never read their private works aloud before, read at the poetry slam. People who have never been a fan of poetry claimed the event changed everything for them. People who never felt accepted told us in the most beautiful way that in that room full of strangers, they felt at home.
That’s what our city needs. Our city needs more of that: vulnerable art and open hearts.
[EIC’s note: In Regina, we have Word Up Spoken Word Poetry, more information is available here: https://www.facebook.com/reginawordup]