Speak out, slam down

Rebecca Allison

For centuries, storytellers have conveyed loss, love, oppression and triumph through the spoken word. K-W Poetry Slam returns to these roots and to a new, local stage.

A poetry slam is a competition at which poets recite original poetry to an audience and receive feedback. “We’re definitely seeing a need for the stage and a venue for people to read their poetry,” said Janice Lee, one of K-W Poetry Slam’s organizers.

Lee was first introduced to poetry slams while attending Wilfrid Laurier University, when Carlos Andres Gomez, a well-known poet, performed at Laurier. “I was writing poetry at the time and I was like ‘I could do that,’” said Lee. “I come from a background of theatre and activism. It was kind of a melding of all those things”.

Lee’s first performance in the poetry slam scene was at Speak Out in Downtown Kitchener. “I was terrified and I forgot my words and I had to look at my paper,” remembered Lee. “I’d never been in a poetry slam before and I was pulled to go first…I thought it was going to be mostly local and then Canadian national slam champions came and competed at this thing and I was so over my head. I was pretty discouraged after that. But I kept going.”

During her undergraduate studies in English, Lee was introduced to a great amount of poetry.

Lee was inspired by Alice Walker, e.e. cummings and many slam poets coming from Calgary or Toronto.
Her rhythm and spoken word skills are also fueled into another one of her passions; music. Poetry and music, said Lee, is a “tool for my activism and celebrating community and what we’re capable of creating.” She plays in and writes for a local band called The Tra La Las.

K-W Poetry Slam began in 2011 and are sponsored by Spoken Word Canada. “[K-W Poetry Slam] wants to create a community around poetry that is inspiring and welcoming. We also want to keep poetry relevant, as an art form and as something that people are still creating today,” said Lee.

“As we put on the slams we’re getting all sorts of people coming, from students, to locals, to like seniors who come with their tattered, old poetry books.”

Lee believes spoken word is an immediate experience. “It’s urgent and it’s also a communal experience. If you’re in a room of people and people are speaking their poetry, everyone’s digesting it together and reacting at the same time. So in that way, you have freedom of speech but with accountability to the community, to the audience”.

K-W Poetry Slam meets the first Saturday of every month where? to showcase the poetry and creative skill of Waterloo in a safe and accessible environment. “Slams are not necessarily about winning the slams, but to share our stories because we identify as storytellers,” said Lee.

To find out more about K-W Poetry Slam visit kwpoetryslam.com