This October, I attended my first national poetry festival – the Canadian Festival of Spoken Word (CFSW) 2016 in Winnipeg, MB. Words cannot begin to describe the week I had.
In addition to being packed full of the country’s best poets from Victoria to Halifax, the festival featured competitions, feature performances, workshops and parties that left attendees’ hearts brimming with love, activism and excitement. The annual festival centred around a national competition, where 22 teams vied for first place, the winning team gaining the well-sought-after prize of… bragging rights.
I attended CFSW 2016 as a member of the Guelph Poetry Slam Team, with some of the kindest poets I know and the first poetry team I have ever been a part of. After working with my teammates Fannon, Eitan, Erratic and Bassam, and our coach Truth Is… since January 2016, our hard work and relentless dedication won us the honour of first place, claiming Guelph’s first national title.
The rise to the top was exhilarating. From our very first preliminary bout with HYP (Hamilton Youth Poets), Capital Slam (Ottawa) and Calgary Poetry Slam, all the way to finals stage with Peterborough Poetry Slam, London Poetry Slam and Urban Legends (Ottawa) – the ride was full of emotions and incredible poetry.
Undoubtedly, the best moment of the festival for me came not in winning the competition (I was mostly aiming to win for teammates, not myself). The best part for me was UNDIES – Underground Indies.
Undies is an individual poetry competition (no team pieces) that takes place late into the night and grants the winner a large cash prize. Rather than the typical format of competitive poetry slams, there are no points in Undies. 24 poets sign up and perform head-to-head, one poet vs. another for the loudest cheers from the audience – a circle full of poets. One poet moves forward and one gets eliminated with each head-to-head, and poets move on to the next rounds with 12 poets, 6 poets, and finally, 3 poets, 1 of whom takes the full prize.
The evening began at 11 p.m. Winnipeg time and the winner claimed their prize at 2:30 a.m. It was the most incredible show of genuine, gut-wrenching, heart-warming poetry I have ever seen. And I couldn’t stop myself even once to check the time during the three-and-a-half hour event. I was in it for the whole night. And was it ever worth my while.
But the festival would not have been the wonderful success that it was without the support of every individual who helped us along the way.
The Guelph team was thrilled to be joined in Winnipeg by members of the Guelph Spoken Word board and community, who sat in our corner, kept score, and cheered for us along the way. As we sat huddled together, a group of 10 poets and organizers, I could feel the support brimming from the arms and hearts of every member of our community.
Guelph has incredible group of writers and listeners that I have the privilege of being a part of not one, not two, but THREE times a month at the regular poetry slam and open mic events. I have not been a part of this community for very long, but I already feel warmly welcomed at every event I attend by fellow writers who wave hello, fans who cheer as I step on stage, and audience members who continue to come out to regular events that support the continued success of the Guelph Spoken Word organization.
So thank you Guelph, thank you Guelph Spoken Word, thank you 2016 Guelph Poetry Slam Team, thank you CFSW, thank you Winnipeg. Thank you, for this amazing opportunity to share my words, to learn, and to grow as a poet and a writer. I can’t wait to see where spoken word takes me next.