5 Year Reflections
If I go back in my mind it still feels like yesterday, still makes me nervous, but the answer is still “YES; let’s start a poetry slam out here in Burlington, Ontario. If it helped me; then there’s got to be someone else out here that needs it too”.
At the first mention of running an event in my new suburban city of residence my gut tightened up. Selina was a Burlington resident that I’d met on the Toronto slam stage and connected with online. At the time I was brand new to the area and hadn’t known that Selina was living here already. We talked about how it was difficult to get to Toronto for the once or twice monthly poetry slams, while managing careers and families. We talked about how awesome art was in our lives. We made a decision to start a poetry slam in our city.
First steps were abuzz with anticipation, excitement and infinite potential. We kicked it all off in the upper room at the Dickens Pub, a room far too hot for the 25 people they told us we could fit up there comfortably. We made the first event on my birthday (July 24th) in order to truly capitalize on motivating (read manipulating) our friends and family to come see our first attempt at a poetry slam in an otherwise artistically void suburban landscape. It worked.
We packed that first show and had our expectations shattered. The stage was set and the ball was in motion. There was no turning back.
I first viewed the Burlington slam as an intermediate location for artists I’d met in Mississauga, Milton, Hamilton, Oakville, etc that couldn’t always get to the shows in Toronto. It became its own scene very quickly, bringing in poets and slam competitors from as far as Buffalo. Having been a competitor for awhile myself I took a new role as host and artistic director. I was finally able to pay my friends! Folks that I’d been talking about poetry and sharing stages with. Good people with important things to say graced our stage; regardless of whether there were 10 or 20 or more, we always put on a real show.
Flash forward; year 1 Selina’s personal and work lives needed more attention and she had to step out of the organization. Volunteers like Ryan Duffy (aka the Duffman) and Michelle Darby helped make sure that I wasn’t running the show alone. Their help really kept me going through that 2nd year. After bouncing around to what felt like every “downtown” pub or bar in Burlington, we made ourselves a home at the slightly less “downtown” Black Bull Restaurant. For 2 years the Fireside Lounge was our home as we developed local artists into national treasures and saw our first national team face distinct controversy and still place 4th in the country.
In 2011 the National festival came to Toronto. It was an opportunity for the community to see how big this poetry, spoken word and slam thing was, in the Canadian context. It was time to get more people involved. Dan Murray (also known as Dan) and Nea Reid jumped in to help maintain the blogs, network with other arts organizations and help put a push behind getting BSP to the US Nationals (a dream for this slammer for years). With new graphics from Yogi Siewrattan, a national appearance and a sense of how big this thing was; the BSP evolved once again, as The Black Bull was shut down for renovations and we found another home at “Philthy McNasty’s”.
2012 was such a huge year. I’ll tell you all about it some time. All I want to say here is that we did go to the US Nationals and we DID make the final stage for Group work. After years of building up to this moment I had finally accomplished a major goal on my life list, thanks in huge part to the help and support of everyone behind the BSP and in the spoken word and slam communities of SW Ontario. We also won the first ever “SLAMtario”, a provincial tournament open to nationally qualified teams at a local level (and returning for its 2nd year this July). We did a lot of big things in 2012. It costs us all a piece of ourselves, but we did it and it can never be taken away.
Here we are today. July 1st 2013. I can’t believe how much amazing poetry I have been blessed to curate in the past 5 years. I never knew what to expect when we started this thing, but I am now involved in helping to make our community’s arts scene a little less scattered. I am working continuously to bring spoken word to youth as a form of expression and a vehicle to relate our stories to each other. I am still here; hosting the slam, tweeting the scores (@burlington_slam), doing my best to engage and advance up and coming performers, booking quality talent and hopefully keeping my integrity intact while doing it all. I thank each and every one of you who have been a part of this journey. It has not been easy, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.
My final call out to the community is for help. After 5 years I am still struggling to get the word out monthly. In a city of 180,000 people there has got to be people who just DON’T EVEN KNOW what they’re missing… Help me let them know. I can stand on street corners and sit in on meetings and shake hands, but I really want to spit poems to your soul. I really want to hear the poems in your soul. And I really want to bring this art form to everyone and anyone who can use it. The power of the written and spoken word is beyond limitation. Come out July 18th and see for yourself.
Thanks again to everyone who has volunteered, attended, supported, hit the mic, brought a friend, bought a t-shirt, been on a team, shared the group page or just acknowledged the value in what we’re doing out here EVERY MONTH. I could never have done it alone. Thank you.
In service and soliloquy,
Tomy “BamBam” Bewick