Getting buff one last time for Poetry in the Raw

Verse-curious victorians can still cheer on raw talent

Slam Team Keenan Proud (left), Jeremy Loveday, Scott Thompson and Justin McGrail gear up for Poetry in the Raw.

Slam Team Keenan Proud (left), Jeremy Loveday, Scott Thompson and Justin McGrail gear up for Poetry in the Raw.

Verse-curious victorians can still cheer on raw talent

Every performer knows the oldest trick for overcoming stage fright is to pretend the audience is naked. But next Monday, Sept. 26, a dozen ballsy poets won’t just be pretending — they’ll actually be encouraging the audience to bare all. Of course, the performers will be costuming in the buff too.

This year’s Victoria-renowned Poetry in the Raw doesn’t just mark the event’s fifth season — it marks its last. For one final time, verse-curious Victorians will have a chance to see poetry performed in its rawest form.

As in years past, the event is a fundraiser to send the Victoria Slam Team, comprised of five top-talent poets, to this year’s Canadian Festival of Spoken Word, happening in Toronto next month.

Jeremy Loveday, one of the selected teammates, will be performing naked for the first time this year. While Loveday planned on participating in last year’s pants-dropping event — he says he made it to the “undressed” rehearsal — he had to step aside due to illness. This year, Loveday says he’s ready to bare it all to make his poetry as honest, open and real as he can.

“I’m pretty sure this is something I will only do once in my life, so it better be a good one,” says Loveday. “I’m excited, but it’s really scary. The nerves will be there, for sure, but we have such a supportive audience, and you can’t find a more authentic performance.”

Raw has become a signature event for Tongues of Fire — the hosting poetry organization — and the Slam Team. But while fans have cheered the production as something never seen anywhere else in the country, Raw creator and Slam Master Missie Peters says naked is no longer novel.

“We want to continue to bring our audience fresh and innovative performances, and when we started five years ago, that’s exactly what this [Raw] was,” says Peters. “Now, there are so many nude performances, from the Naked Girls Reading series to The Human Body Project show, to even naked ballet. We want to make sure we don’t go stale, and instead end it here while it’s still hot.”

Since this year’s event is termed “The Best Of,” the line-up will include some repeat Victoria favourites — like Peters herself — along with encore performances from Vancouver poets and some first-time acts from poets like Loveday. This year Raw will also see musical performances from Frea the Banshee and DJ Dodd, along with a few last-time surprises. As per usual, the event will be open only to those 18 and older, and remains an alcohol-free event. Don’t assume that cancels any fun, though: refreshments will be provided by Solstice Café, and those famous “body cookies” will be back this year, shaped as private parts.

“This event is so different from anything else you’ll ever see. It uses nudity not to be lewd, or raunchy — it’s just art in its purest form,” says Loveday. “Often people hide behind costumes, or props or personas, and Poetry in the Raw is a chance to step out from behind that and show yourself without all that.”

Peters created Raw, in fact, after learning just how beautiful it was to witness “the effect poetry had on the human body.” And while she will be sad to see it go, she says she already has three new ideas to replace it — but fans will have to wait in suspense for those.

“The first time I ever saw [poet] Shayne Avec I Grec perform the poem ‘Howl’ naked at a party, I was stunned. I saw his toes curling, his neck clenching, how he flexed as his body bent into the poem, and I thought, ‘Wow; we have to do this’,” says Peters.

For the last five years, Raw has been met with cheers, tears and near-sold-out performances. Audience members are always invited to participate by dropping their own drawers, and most times they do. Even if you aren’t ready to flap around in public, Peters says this is the perfect time to get involved before the act moves on.

“If you’re scared and you think, ‘Oh man, I could never go to something like that,’ then you have to come more than anyone else,” she says. “The best compliment I always hear is that, more than anything, this is a profoundly human performance … it will change the way you see poetry.” M

The Best of Poetry in the Raw

Victoria Event Centre, Monday, Sept. 26, 8-11pm. 18+. Tickets $15 at Solstice Cafe, $18 at the door.

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