Don’t knock it till you slam it

Larysa Musick, ARTS COLUMIST

The next person who tells me they don’t understand poetry should expect the following questions from me:

1. Have you ever been to a poetry slam?

2. If you answered no, then I’ll bet you do understand poetry, but you haven’t been exposing yourself to the right kind.

This past October, Winnipeg hosted CFSW—the largest spoken word poetry

festival in Canada—and yet there were still empty seats left in The Garrick Center on finals night.

Spoken word is not a new art form in Winnipeg, and yet I still run into people who have no clue what it is. Hollywood isn’t helping. Unfortunately, the parody scene from 22 Jump Street, comical as it may be, isn’t an accurate representation.

I think the biggest misconception out there about spoken word poetry is that it’s like the poetry we had to analyze in high school English class. Unlike high school where the teacher has the final say, any spectator at a slam can pick up a set of scorecards and rate the poetry from one to ten. These judges could know a lot about storytelling, or they

could be someone who hasn’t read in years. I know many experienced spoken word poets that don’t use much jargon at slams because they know their judges could be anyone.

Because spoken word is performed, improvisers, comedians, actors and

singers can excel at slams. Mike Johnston, former Winnipeg Poetry Slam (WPS) Director is a comedian; Rob Malo is a juggler and musician; Steve Currie is an improviser; and Mira Black, who was on the WPS team in 2013, is a singer-songwriter. Rapping, dancing, and

beatboxing are also hallmarks of great spoken word pieces.

If WPS wants its audience to grow, I think it should combine slam poetry events with other art forms. Maybe this will break down misconceptions about spoken word. For example, an event like “Writer’s Block” hosted by Winnipeg if… Improv Festival this past October— mixing spoken word performers with improvisers.

Maybe WPS should host a comedy and spoken word hybrid in the future?

It’s time for audiences to experience the variety of forms that spoken word can take on.


Larysa Musick is the director of Winnipeg Poetry Slam this year.

Dancing, doodling, and watching videos of baby animals are some of her favourite pastimes.

She’s a sucker for a well-written story or a long hug.

Follow her poetry on Instagram @larysamusick