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Toronto Poetry Slam wins 2013 Canadian Festival of Spoken Word (Includes interview and first-hand account)

Toronto’s largest spoken word series took home first place after a week-long poetry competition taking place in Montreal, Quebec. It’s the first win for TPS since the festival began seven years ago.

The CFSW features poetry slam bouts, whereby poets perform poems and randomly-selected judges from the audience score each piece between 0 to 10, basing their score both on content and performance. In a team competition, teams can send up individual solo poems or team pieces, meaning more than one poet is on stage delivering lines from a co-written poem.

(Disclosure: I am the founder and artistic director of Toronto Poetry Slam)

TPS, taking place biweekly at The Drake Hotel, sent a team to CFSW 2013 chock full of rookies (despite their age): IF, Kliggy, Philosofly and Optimus Rhyme (aka Richard Lett) have never before competed on a team until this year; David Delsica made the TPS Team for the fourth time in a row.

Canadian poetry veteran Ian Keteku was the coach of the 2013 Team.

In Saturday night’s Finals at the gorgeous Rialto Theatre, TPS squared off against Vancouver and Saskatoon and Guelph. As a blog post describes it:

It was a tight battle between Guelph and Toronto throughout most of the Finals, but Philosofly’s second-round HipHop Homophobia scored too high for any team to beat, and once TPS dropped the HUGE team piece Nine Shots (about Sammy Yatim), the team enjoyed a comfortable lead going into the 4th round.

The scores for Finals is below. Note a perfect score for a four-round bout would be 120:

Fourth: VanSlam 100
Third: Sask 100.3
Second: Guelph 104.2
First: Toronto 105.7

While Saturday’s gold medal is Toronto Poetry Slam’s first win at CFSW, last year Toronto took first place when Up from the Roots Slam Team won the 2012 CFSW in Saskatoon.

Lett, calling himself Optimus Rhyme in poetry circles, says he felt the pressure to step up his spoken word game since he was representing such a reputable series as TPS. “All that pressure allowed us to succeed as individuals and as a team,” he says in an interview.

Lett, 53, compared his Finals night poem Nine Shots, the last piece the Team performed, as a captain on a hockey team asked to seal the game for his squad. “My whole body was shaking with energy, and it was one of the most incredible intense stage experience i’ve ever had. We tried to ride that piece to wild victory, and, well, we did.”

Note the next Canadian Festival of Spoken Word will be held in Victoria, B.C. in October 2014.

For info on Toronto Poetry Slam’s upcoming shows, go here.

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