So, day one of the Vancouver International Poetry Festival was on Monday April 18 – our opening night show was the always-thrilling Vancouver Poetry Slam Team Finals Night. I spent the day trying to relax, since I was competing in the show that night for a spot on the Van Slam team, while still ensuring that everything was running smoothly for the first night of the festival.
I felt that this was one of the most exciting Van Slam finals nights I’ve ever been to – the poetry was incredible, the competition was very tight, and the special guests blew me away. We had a generous, warm-hearted and funny First Nations welcome extended to the festival by Doug Nicol. In speaking about First Nations people, he said “My people have faced a lot of challenges… residential schools, alcoholism… you…” He was greeted with warm appreciation, by an audience who got it.
Next up was Libby Davies, the woman who gives politicians a good name. I am so proud that she’s my MP. Not only is she a fabulous representative for East Vancouver in the House of Commons, but she included a poem in her opening remarks. (Note to readers: vote on May 2.)
There was a brief performance by C.R. Avery, who we would thankfully wind up seeing more of later in the night (ooooh, the foreshadowing)! And then the slam began, with an epic wave started by the host, Trevor Spilchen. The sacrificial poet in the first round was Mo Lawrence, the recently-crowned Youth Slam Champion and a member of the Vancouver Youth Slam team. He did a great piece about giving his mom Mentos for Mother’s Day.
The Svelte Ms. Spelt drew the bullet in the first round, but rocked it with his Spite Fuck poem. That shit is HILARIOUS, every time. I can’t remember much about the order, but – Kelsey Savage did a gorgeous piece about a Pharaoh and words – she puts the POET in SLAM POETRY. I knew it would run quite long though, which really put her out of the competition very early. SO worth it, though. Zander went funny with a nerdy poem – always a big favourite at the Van Slam. I did probably the best version I’ve ever done of “Lover”, thanks to some coaching support from Chris Masson. Thanks Chris! Clint had the crowd clapping and stamping along with “Too Many Fucking People”. Tristan DePlume did a lovely piece called “Woodward’s” about Vancouver. Olivia B did my favourite poem of hers, which is about the Potato Children, with a glorious dig at the end about Stephen Harper. That girl is awesomely original and perhaps the most energetic performer alive. Lisa B did a great piece about growing up middle class, which resonated with lots of folks, and certainly with me. The kid-leash/adult bondage reference was genius.
Then we had Mike McGee come up on stage to feature. That man is so extraordinarily lovely. He did some terrific poems, at least one of which I had never heard live. His work gives me hope that humanity might one day get its shit together and we might all learn to be kind.
He then blew the lid off the place by inviting Shane Koyczan and C.R. Avery onstage to join him in a Tons of Fun University reunion – the first time they had played together in three years! It was such a treat for the crowd, and those boys really embodied the festival’s mission – to explore and expand the boundaries of contemporary poetry and spoken word.
During the break, the washroom lines were long, the hugs were plentiful and the audience was buzzing. What an electrifying first half!
The second half began with a sacrificial poem from Charles Hamilton for the one minute round. Kelsey Savage did one of the most beautiful performance poems I have ever heard, called “In Our First Month.” It should be up on YouTube in the next couple of weeks, so you would be doing yourself a poetic favour in checking it out. Olivia B was hilarious once more with a poem about being the kid in your neighbourhood with all of the loud hobbies that the neighbours love. Clint entertained us with poetry about the creatures in his beard, and his accidental destruction of an ecosystem. Ms. Spelt touched the crowd with a gorgeous tribute to Gabrielle Bouliane, wrapped in one of the most beautiful central metaphors ever. Tristan did he shortest poem of the night, deliciously titled and brilliantly delivered – a risk rewarded by the judges. It will also be up on YouTube soon – it’s called “Vegan”. Zander did a poem called “Parallel Lines”. I did a poem called “Flinch” about the paradoxes of having a person with a mental illness in your life. I remember loving Lisa B’s poem in this round, but not what it was about.
Then, the final round. Julie Peters sacrificed with a brand new poem. The race was still insanely tight. Lisa B did an amazing satirical political piece – maybe the best piece I’ve ever seen from her. I pulled out Jenny Greenteeth, which I haven’t done in ages and still takes so much out of me to perform. Zander did a poem about coffee, I think? At this point, everything started to get blurry for me. Tristan did a fucking ballsy piece about gender and love that pretty much fucked us all up inside in the best way. Clint did “Brain Blender”, a parody of infomercials and drug use. It sounds unlikely, but it totally works. Kelsey Savage did another beautiful piece in round 3, called “For the Widows”. She is magic. Olivia B rocked it once more, and I stood up for her again to yell and cheer and jeer at the judges. And to cap it all off, Ms. Spelt KILLED it with his piece “To Whom It May Concern”, which is inspired by the It Gets Better project. What a way to bookend the competition.
In the end, we had the youngest Grand Slam Champ ever in 18-year-old Olivia B (also the first female champ in 13 years), and the team this year will be made up of Olivia B, Lisa B, Ms. Spelt and myself, with Clint “Father Goose” Wilson as the alternate. A stunning night, and a very rewarding one for me.