After the longest poetry slam season ever in Victoria, 12 spoken word artists are gearing up to blow you away at the Victoria Poetry Slam Finals.
“This is a thick crop of poets,” says co-slam master Jeremy Loveday (who also runs the Tongues of Fire spoken word series with other co-slam master Matthew Christopher Davidson).
“One thing that makes this year stand out above the rest is that any one of these 12 poets could win. The playing field is more level, and that’s because everyone’s gotten better, it hasn’t just averaged out.”
The Vic Slam season started in September this year, with the scores from the eight monthly slams determining the lineup for the finals.
“This is the longest season we’ve ever had,” says Loveday. “Every other year we’ve started in January except for this year. The hunger was there.”
Only 12 poets get to compete at each regular season slam. Poets sign up and names are chosen at random. Sometimes that means that a few people that want to compete don’t get the chance.
Five judges are chosen from the crowd at random. They score the poets out of 10. The top five poets at the end of the slam earn points; four for first place, two for second, one for third and half a point each for fourth and fifth place. At the end of the eight qualifying rounds, the top 12 point earners get to compete to be on the team representing Victoria at nationals.
The poets competing are (in order of standings): Mak Konwick, Scott Thompson, Jeremy Loveday, Matthew Christopher Davidson, Jacob Arts, Justin McGrail, Keenan Proud, Savannah Rain Mcdermott, Amy Ponderchuck, Erin Cotton, Kyeren Regehr and Hilly Sommerville.
“We had more competitors try out than ever before,” says Loveday. “The scoring system favours the people who slam more often, but if you finished in the top two in any slam, you pretty much qualified for finals.”
“These slams have a different energy than an open mic,” says Arts, who finished fifth in the regular season. “Slams are more intense, more engaging and more fun.”
Arts is working hard to compete for a spot on the team. “One of the reasons I’ve been slamming more this year is because going to Saskatoon for nationals would be such a great experience for me.”
Arts is only 19, but has been slamming since high school.
“A good poem grabs the audience’s attention and holds them in the poem, without doing anything that’s ever been done before,” he says. “It’s the safest way to be terrified.”
Five of the poets in the finals this year are 20 years old or younger, including two of the four women.
Loveday credits an expanding spoken word program in the area’s high schools for the increase in younger poets slamming. They even have a secondary school slam championship, called Victorious Voices, that had its third bout in April.
“It’s so inspiring to see the youth come up into the scene showing everyone they can’t only hold their own, but they can innovate and carry the momentum of the scene forward,” says Loveday.
The finalists are also very diverse. Savannah Rain Mcdermott is just 16, Justin McGrail is a professor at Vancouver Island University, and Kyeren Regehr is an MFA candidate at UVic and poetry board intern at the Malahat Review.
Instead of the regular two-round slam format, the finals will have three rounds — the first with 12 poets, the second with 8 and the last with 5. The slam masters (who are both competing) decided to add the fifth poet to the final round to keep things interesting. Normally there are only four poets in the final round.
“The third round is a victory lap,” says Loveday. “If you make the third round, you already know you’ve made the team, you just don’t know if you’re first or the alternate. It makes it so it’s not a throwaway round.”
Once the team is chosen, they’ll pick a coach and meet once or twice a week to practise before heading to Nationals in Saskatoon in the fall. M
Vitoria Poetry Slam Finals
Doors at 7:30pm, show at 8pm
$10 at the door (come early to get good seats!)