2014 – Growing, changing, and watching our slam evolve.
It’s been a year. I could just leave it at that.
For some of us at The Burlington Slam Project, it’s been a rough one – loaded with challenges, tests, and some major hardships. I’ve had more than my own share of difficulty this year, and I’m not the only one.
But let me tell you what’s made this year incredible:
It’s been this slam. This slam that has been struggling for 6 years to find its audience, to find poets hiding in the suburbs, and to be able to be a representation of voices within this city. There have always been those from out of town, but for both Tomy and myself, as residents of Burlington, it tickles us just that extra bit when we start seeing the local talents and the local poetry lovers coming in from our own backyard. It means the word is spreading in this city, and I couldn’t be happier to see it.
This month saw what may have been the most exciting slam I’ve seen in Burlington since the very first one I attended in 2010. And at neither this slam nor that one, was I competing. I hit the open mic back at my first, and this month I was hosting.
Both nights, special for their own reasons, were nights I didn’t have to concern myself with being better than anybody. I didn’t have to keep track of scores, I didn’t have to feign any sort of bravado or competitive energy. Instead, last night, I got to stand in a space I’ve been standing in once a month for 4 and a half years, a space that, over those years, I have grown to dominate as a competitor, and I got to welcome people into that space, with an audience cheering and clapping the same way they did when I started, and let them share their hearts without thinking about what I was going to do to beat them. The London Poetry Slam chants “Show the Love” before each poet speaks – and that was a message I felt was with me the whole night. I wanted to share my favourite space with these people, and show them just how much it meant to me.
And right from the get go, with Adrian, our first open-mic poet, the night came alive. Our recent friend Mony popped in at the last minute to make sure Adrian wasn’t so alone in the open mic list, and we had the first indicator that this was going to be a special night. Poetry was happening at our poetry slam. Not soft-edged, crowd-pleasing food for the sensitive – but real, raw, honest fucking POETRY.
The slam itself was a great competition. Strong work, strong performances, lots of love, and a LOUD audience all night, which is one of my favourite things to see as a host. It’s hard to keep yelling at people who don’t yell back sometimes.
Optimus Rhyme, the honey-gravel voiced madman who was our feature that evening gave what I have been describing as one of the very best feature sets I have seen in my history of slam. This was a set that began with some of his slam gems, and quickly morphed into a deeply personal and profound blend of storytelling, stand-up comedy, and Supertramp parody, that ended in the only standing ovation I have ever seen at our slam.
The rest of the competition, while still excellent, is not what I’m here to write about. The scores can be seen on our scores page. The question I am left with is – how is it that my two best nights at the BSP are both nights in which I am not competing?
The answer to that is something Tomy Bewick has been saying since I first met him.
The community takes precedence over the competition.
At my first slam, I met a whole new community of people I didn’t know existed. At this one, I got to see what this community has grown to, and I got to give them the kind of love and energy that only this kind of event can instill in me.
Before 2014, there were months we were really not sure the slam was going to make it. Attendance was unfathomably low. Many of the poets and audience members from my first year had moved on to other places, but people were not coming in to take their places. And finally, this year, I’m sure thanks in no small part to those involved in the Burlington Arts and Culture Collective, the word is spreading, and people are coming and staying. They’re bringing friends. We have new competitors breathing a new kind of life into some of us vets, and we are now seeing a monthly turnout of 50+
Compared to the nights when we had 9, this is a real relief.
And this is what I go into 2015 understanding: Competition is fun. It is all part of the game that the “slam” portion of slams offers. But slams are so much more. They are the open mics, they are the feature performances, they are the small bits of inter-artist socialization before and after the show. Slams are communities, and community is where the real high comes from. Competition is just a light snack. Any fool can win, but it takes something stronger to matter.
This coming year, I don’t know what will be in store for me. I may try for the team, or I may coach it. I have not yet decided. But more importantly than that – I will be there, month after month, for the faces that have become friends. For James and Aaron, for Mony, for Aly, for Eve, for the Crowe Crewe, for Korey and Akita, for Kyle, for Bassam, for Ambrosia, for Laird and The Black Bull, for those wacky Buffalo cats whenever they decide to pop in, for the Koos family who still come out every now and again, despite having moved away years ago, for Rik and his refusal to allow us to forget the poets who came before us, for every new voice, for my friends who keep coming out to support, for Trevor and Teresa and Shannon and Jim and all you other artsy weirdos in the collective who’ve come and said hi, for Kelsey, for Angelo (and at times for Angelo’s biscotti), for Lana who was good to her word when she said she’d keep coming back and keep bringing people, for any of the faces who aren’t yet names, for any names I may have forgotten, and lastly, for my brother in poetry – Tomy Bewick. I will keep coming out, and keep doing what I can to make sure this city has poetry.
Something special is growing here, and it’s not the kind of special where we need to kill each other in the attempt at earning national titles. It’s the kind where we need to stand with each other, and focus on our accomplishments in this city, long before we focus on what we can accomplish abroad.
Happy Holidays, and a Happy New Year
With love, and a 1187 word-count