Speak Up

Victoria Spoken Word Festival aims to foster innovation

Expect the unexpected at the Victoria Spoken Word Festival

Victoria Spoken Word Festival aims to foster innovation

When the inaugural Victoria Spoken Word Festival culminates with a public performance this coming Saturday, even the organizer has no idea what to expect.

“Hopefully, you’ll see . . . a show that is like nothing you’ve ever seen before. That’s the only way I can describe it, because I don’t know,” says local spoken-word artist Missie Peters. “The only rule I gave … was that I don’t want it to be one poet after another, coming up on a microphone and doing poems. Other than that, I don’t care what it is.”

Peters was inspired to create the Victoria Spoken Word Festival after our fair city played host to the Canadian Spoken Word Festival in November 2009. While the enthusiasm that the 70-plus poets displayed for Victoria got Peters thinking about creating a local festival, it was the lack of originality that really spurred her to do something different.

”There were only two or three of them that were really innovative,” she says. “We’re stale if we’re not seeing stuff that’s constantly new and different at that level. So my thought was, ‘Well, what can I do about this?’”

So Peters, being the go-getter she is, put together a unique program for the VSWF. While there are performances open to the public every night, the three-day festival is almost more of a conference; 12 poets from across North America will be coming to Victoria to take workshops in things like improv, dance, stand-up comedy and beatboxing in order to find ways to spice up their work in a group setting.

Wordsmith R.C. Weslowski is the festival’s poet of honour and will also be facilitating the Saturday development session, where the participating poets will be putting together new material for that night’s performance. Weslowski, a veteran of Vancouver’s spoken-word scene, says he sees professional-development opportunities such as VSWF and the mainland’s Cultch’s Ignite! Mentorship Program — where he, Brendan McLeod and Barbara Adler have been mentoring youth interested in spoken-word for the past three years — as an expanding and necessary step for the form.

“There was never anything like that when I was starting. You were doing things in your own bubble,” he says. Maybe that’s why the rawness of first-time or inexperienced poets is part of the appeal of performance poetry for him.

“We should do better at having infrastructure to support and mentor people within our own thing. It doesn’t necessarily have to be via academia, not that that’s wrong or bad, but it can be done on a more grassroots level, especially if it’s going through a poetry slam,” he says. “There’s lots of people who have done theatre and comedy who are going to poetry slams and have professional skills they’ve learned in other disciplines and adapt it, but there’s lots of people who don’t, who literally come in off the street and sign up.”

For Matthew Dryden, who is coming from Guelph for the festival, the improv workshop holds a lot of appeal.“What I do with my poetry is I write maybe 90 per cent of a poem, and then I’ll take elements from the night from other people’s poems or something interesting that happened, maybe someone broke a glass or whatever, and I’ll try to incorporate that into my poem,” he explains.

Dryden’s also excited to just hang out with other spoken-word artists. “I thought this would be a great opportunity to get to know other poets,” he says. “My biggest interest is going to be meeting and hanging out with poets … especially ones I have never met and never heard any of their work.”

Indeed, Peters wanted to keep the festival small in order to facilitate quality time. “I wanted to bring in a small group, so they could have that really bonding moment and go home with strong connections across the country,” she says. “Suddenly they have a friend in Guelph; suddenly they can go do a show in Calgary because they have someone who can set them up . . . and that’s really important.” M

The Victoria Spoken Word FestivalThursday-Saturday, Feb. 24-26Solstice Cafe (529 Pandora)  & the Intrepid Theatre Club (1609 Blanshard)Various times and pricesvictoriaspokenwordfestival.com               

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