Winnipeg hosts Canadian Festival of Spoken Word for first time
Jennifer Doerksen, BEAT REPORTER
Hundreds of poets came to Winnipeg from across Canada to share raw feelings and experiences with a hint of competition.
“Turns out it’s actually very therapeutic yelling your problems to random strangers,” said Nina Vuleta, a poet from Ottawa.
The Canadian Festival of Spoken Word took place from Oct. 23-30. The week featured a variety of events, from a historical poetry slam, to improv and poetry collaborations, to a full spoken word championship competition.
Vuleta’s team made the championship round. She said they did better this year than last because they were more competitive.
“Finals on Saturday night was amazing,” she said. “It’s so incredible to hear what everyone has to say.”
Though the event was competitive, the community supported each other through each performance.
“There’s a fantastic amount of love back home, but at nationals there are way more people so the amount of love is multiplied until everyone is swim- ming in a pool of love,” Vuleta said.
Director Steve Currie said Winnipeg’s spoken word community really came out for the festival.
Janis Maudlin lives in Winnipeg and attended the championship event. She said she doesn’t often go to slam poetry events.
“I occasionally read at Speaking Crow, but generally avoid slam events,” she said. “But Mike Johnston has been doing amazing work to make the Winnipeg poetry slam a really welcoming environment.”
Groups like Speaking Crow, QPOC and Winnipeg Poetry Project host poetry slams regularly. The national event offered a chance to connect Winnipeg’s community with other poets nationally.
Mike Johnston introduced poets of honour Jillian Christmas and Ian Keteku. Christmas hosts the Versus Festival of Words in Vancouver, B.C. Both spoke to love and living as people of colour in the modern era.
Voices from the audience occasionally shouted “I love you” during Christmas’s performances, and after Johnston’s opening remarks.
“As poets, the truth is very important to us. In the moments between poems, I’m not beautiful, I’m not strong, I’m not essential. I’m pretty forgettable,” Johnston said in his opening remarks. “Here, among you poets, I’ve always felt that I’m in a place that I actually belong.”
Christmas cried on stage, and people in the audience were seen wiping tears when intermission came.
The event started with performances from the poets of honour. A total of 22 teams had entered the competition. People mingled during the short intermission, and then the final teams of four to five poets faced off for the championship. The Guelph Poetry Slam team won.
Despite the competition, support and acceptance defined the evening.
“This is one of the trademark things about slam events,” Maudlin said. “The crowd is always ridiculously loving. Tonight was maybe the most loving crowd I’ve ever seen at a poetry event, which is saying something.”