If you think poetry is for the birds, think again. Toronto has a vibrant poetry scene that is brimming with astounding talent.
Toronto wordsmiths rocked the Drake Hotel on Saturday night in the semi-final round of the Toronto Poetry Slam. 12 of the city’s finest spoken word heavyweights owned the stage and left the microphone smouldering in a night of intense poetry as they were all hungry to attain one of the eight spots in the finals round to be held on April 20.
Before the first of two rounds of poems began that night, the host asked the crowd if anyone was new to slam poetry or a “slam virgin” as they affectionately refer to them. A few timid hands were raised in the air, but by the end of the night they were all initiated.
They could not have known how far and high their minds were about to be blown out of their skulls.
“This is a very well kept secret,” said Andy Persaud, a first timer at the slam. “Where else can you get this kind of entertainment for $5?”
No topic is taboo in the Toronto Poetry Slam. Everything from comic book heroes, to childhood reveries, to torrid sexual encounters are all acceptable topics. But be warned, some poems are not for the squeamish.
For example, take Cathy Petch’s first poem of the night; a sexual encounter with sweeping urgency and graphic detail... and then the punch line hits you like a knockout right hook. The sexual encounter was actually a young man fantasizing about sex while screwing a tangerine in the washroom at work. The crowd erupted into raucous laughter, cheers, and applause.
Not all poets are funny, however. Some are reflective and wistful as they relate tales about their family and days of their childhood that formed who they are today. Some recite rapid fire rap lyrics quickly changing tone and pace, and even breaking into a chorus then switching back into rap-form. Electric Jon and Eytan Millstone are notorious for this tweaky style.
The real star of the night was special guest poet Christian Drake. The semi final was his last stop on a two and a half month spoken word tour and he amazed the audience with a series of original poems delivered with such strength and verve that onlookers were at some moments transfixed, and at other times ready to jump out of their seats. The ladies at the Drake that night nearly melted into puddles on the floor from the smooth and rough tone of his velvet voice. Oh, how they swoon.
After the show he returned home to New England, but it won’t be last time the prolific poet will be in Canada.
“This place Toronto makes me feel more at home because people are just stretching poetry to extremes,” said Drake.
“I heard a lot of great poetry tonight where people where just unabashedly themselves. They were really trying to stretch the audiences understanding of poetry even in competition and not playing it too safe.”
The talent was stunning, the vibe was electric, and the crowd was hyped. The Toronto Poetry Slam is a small scene, but it’s one that always welcomes new talent with open arms. Even after attending only a handful of shows one begins to see the same faces and even starts to become recognized. It can be a great way to find your 15 minutes of fame if you seek it.
The eight Toronto poets that will be progressing on to the finals on April 20 at the Royal Theatre are sure to have some new surprises from us. How they might top themselves from last weekend is difficult to imagine.
Keep stretching those boundaries and we’ll keep watching.
For more info on the Toronto Poetry Slam visit www.torontopoetryslam.com.