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Posts Tagged ‘spoken word’

Let’s talk about this idea of community.

As artists, it is something we often seek out: to find like-minded people to share in our passions, to have not just a poetry show to attend but also a place to enjoy milkshakes together afterwards.

Community is about inclusiveness, but also exclusiveness. We say we want everyone to feel safe and welcome in our community, but in order to do so, we must restrict certain freedoms and the participation of certain people. We also have to make choices about whom to include in our community when there is a conflict between two or more people: we have to consider who benefits our community more greatly, who has earned the right to an unquestioned place in our community.

I remember you. You designed the CD cover for one of the poetry collective’s first albums. You were sweet, short, blond-haired. You volunteered at the first national poetry festival and welcomed me to the events. Then you got pregnant, and your poet boyfriend left you, and we never again saw you at those events.

I remember you. You organized showcases and women’s events. You brought passion to your work. You married a young, fiery poet for love in a ceremony that I’m sad to say I missed. You also got pregnant, your marriage fell apart, and you no longer felt welcome at those events. I’m sorry.

I remember you. You moved here from Nova Scotia, for love of another poet, and shared your sensual work onstage, and I was glad when we eventually became friends. You said you only felt welcomed by association with him, and when he left you, carelessly, you were suddenly a stranger in a place you hoped to make your home. I hope your memories are better now.

I remember myself, also. I was 19 (in 2005) when I started attending poetry events regularly. I was invited to run my own side project. I was encouraged to start performing. I was made to feel special. I was desperately in need of community, and I felt flattered when a certain poet began to take an interest in me. Even then, I recognized that he was not a good person. I had heard things, but I chose to ignore them, thinking – as long as he is good to me, that is what counts. But he wasn’t good to me. He treated me badly, both in a personal and professional capacity. He raised a hand to me once, but I stepped back in time, so I suppose I can’t officially complain about that.

My experience with him was not a positive one, and yet I do not consider myself a victim, as it was my choice to get involved with him, and I take full responsibility for that. But I am disappointed by how other people responded to what happened to me: at the time, I did report his behaviour to other people in the community, and the response was often – he just needs more love, more understanding, so we can’t give up on him… and think of how much he gives back to the community.

By the end of that very difficult year, I considered ceasing my involvement, until the final meeting when he announced that he was revoking his role as director and would no longer be attending the events. He recognized that people were not attending the events because of him and that there was tension due to his presence. I was relieved and grateful. But only for a short time, as a few months later, he was back again, welcomed back heartily, and no one seemed to remember any past wrongs. People can be so forgiving when it’s convenient to them.

In 2010, the poetry collective held a meeting to determine whether the current director would remain in his post, or if another member would assume his responsibilities. At this point, the poet in question decided to apply for the directorship. And you would not believe the turnout for that meeting: perhaps the most well-attended in collective history. Twenty-or-so poets showed up simply to vote against him. Only three people – still taken in by his goofy charm, and seeming professionalism – voted for him, insisting they could handle him despite his reputation.

I understand why people made excuses for him, and continue to do so even now when he is accused of sexual harassment and taking advantage of minors. He was, after all, one of the people responsible for starting the poetry collective in Ottawa, for hosting a multitude of community events, for tackling issues of mental health in his poetry, for being a mentor to young poets, particularly in launching a youth poetry slam. (On a side note, who in their right mind allowed this person to receive funding for a YOUTH poetry slam?) And just last year, he was included in a ‘hall of fame’ for his contributions to the poetry community. How can you fault someone who seems to do so much good for the community to which they belong?

The question we need to ask, perhaps, is what these people gain from being in a leadership role. In this case, this particular poet gained for himself immunity from taking responsibility for his actions. His seemingly small faults could be excused because of the persona he chose to project within his community: one of social awareness, human compassion, and encouraging the youth of today. Artists and leaders who preach these things can be some of the best people around, or they can be some of the worst. It can be difficult for us to wrap our heads around this hypocrisy, to recognize that people who purport such ideals – “especially people who care about strangers, who care about evil and social injustice” – can be so carelessly wretched to those who love them, look up to them, and work alongside them.

This poet is now being banned from poetry events across the country; his features are being canceled; he is being reported to the school board; his name is being held up as an ‘example’. An example of what? Of someone who got away with this type of bad behaviour for ten whole years, possibly more? If I were a young predator – since now it seems fashionable to use this word – I would consider this a success story: indeed, I could get away with the exact same behaviour for over a decade, especially if I’m a little more careful (I can learn from his mistakes!) about not getting caught.

Let me be clear: I am beyond grateful to the people who are now speaking out and making an effort to make amends. I think they are doing absolutely the right thing, and I applaud them. But I think we also need to consider how this might have been prevented, or dealt with earlier. And how we can better handle the next generation of so-called predators, disguised as mentors, colleagues, and friends.

All those poets who attended the poetry collective meeting simply to vote against him, you must have done so for a reason. But did you ever speak out against him, or did let your anonymous vote speak for you?

I spoke out at one time, but I should have spoken louder and more frequently. I gave up and I quieted down because, frankly, I wanted my community. I still do. I didn’t want to be yet another young woman pushed out of the community because I couldn’t stand to be in the same room as a man who treated me badly and treated others worse.

Especially in the arts, there is this liberal-minded attitude that artists can get away with all types of bad behaviour because they are artists. As though carelessness and fiery moods and sexual aggressiveness are all part of the artistic temperament, inherently. I assure you, they are not.

There are many other people like him out there. Poets in Vancouver created a blog about it a few years back, sharing their experiences of being harassed, assaulted, and misused, then ignored or shamed by their community when they tried to say something about it. Of course, the names of the abusers were never included because that would constitute ‘defamation of character’ – at least until the culprit is publicly deemed dangerous by an organization (rather than a number of individuals), and then we can say their name all we want.

Funny how, technically and legally, I could have used ‘his’ name throughout this article, and yet my gut instinct told me not to. Perhaps because, really, this isn’t about him. This is about a community that supports and excuses and sometimes even defends people like him. To be clear, I don’t like the guy, and I’m certainly not sorry to see him being held accountable in this way – but I also don’t want to see him reduced to a scapegoat for a community whose problems are far bigger than one bad egg.

As cynical as it may sound, perhaps the first step toward positive change is recognizing that ‘community’ is not always what it may seem. We may feel the temptation to involve ourselves wholeheartedly, embracing the warm feelings associated with having a group to which we belong, and, in doing so, fail to step outside the inner circle to acknowledge the problems inherent therein. At least, that has, I think, been my predominant weakness in my ongoing search for community. Perhaps it is a little foolish, but ‘community’ is still something I idealize and strive for in all aspects of my life, so I do understand where that feeling comes from, and why it is so important.

And let’s also remember and acknowledge those people who once belonged to our community and who, for whatever reason, were made to feel excluded or felt obligated to leave: I’m sorry for what happened; I’m sorry we didn’t do more to help; and I hope you found joy in community elsewhere.

We’ll do better next time.

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You told me once “Don’t pout. It’s unbecoming”

And I cried for a week

You told me I should develop a thicker skin

And I wondered why you felt the need to teach me that lesson

When it was you who seemed to value my skin for its softness

And my lips for their sweetness

And my body for its tendency

To let you in

 

In this sometimes harsh world, is it any surprise

That kind words are desperately sought after

Even if they’re not always sincere

Even if it’s just a ploy to get ahead

To get me into bed

Because then, hey,

At least I’m getting laid

 

I will soak up your sweethearts and lovers’ talk

Like syrup on pancakes

I will sacrifice my working hours

For some quality time and late-morning showers

Even if, in the end, my efforts are not matched

And the result is frustration, disappointment, distress…

 

When my mother finds me grieving over yet another seething injustice

She says to me, fondly

“You’ve been this intense since you were five years old”

And while I’m not entirely sold on the idea

That our personalities are determined at such a young age

It gratifies me to realize that I haven’t yet passed that stage

Because the truth is

I don’t want to develop a thicker skin

I don’t want to win arguments based in unfair fashion

Or use my passion to formulate malicious attacks

Or pack my slate full of anger and hate

Because while I’ve been hurt

I’ve not yet been broken

And while I’ve spoken my mind about the kind of lovers I’ve known

The kind who’ve shown themselves unworthy of the title

Lover

My tone, I believe, has always been mischievous, playful, without regret

And I begin each new love affair full of unabashed optimism

Yes, it’s a constant struggle

But each new person is different

And each new person has the potential

Has the essential elements that make it possible to feel something

 

And with a thicker skin, I’m afraid I might not be able to sense your soft eyelashes brush my face

Or your careful fingertips along the sides of my neck

Or your gentle lips pause against the backs of my knees

I never want to close myself off or shut myself up or turn my face away

To protect myself from what you might say

Because what you might say might be beautiful

You see

Sometimes I can feel my heart beat

And I never want to lose that feeling

Written by Jessica Ruano

September 2010

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The Canadian Festival of Spoken Word (CFSW 2010 Ottawa www.cfsw.ca) returns to the capital for the first time since its inception in 2004 with the largest slam-focused spoken word event in Canadian history. From October 12 to 16, 2010, Ottawa will be treated to a wide-ranging display of Canadian slam poetry and spoken word featuring over 100 of the best spoken word poets from 15 communities across Canada.

Capital Slam: John Akpata, PrufRock, Chris Tse, OpenSecret, and Brandon Wint

Over the course of five nights, 18 teams participate in highly competitive poetry slams that will determine this year’s Canadian Slam Champions. Home of the defending champions, Ottawa has two teams – Capital Slam and Urban Legends – attempting to keep the title in the capital this year.

Truth Is...

CFSW 2010 Ottawa features some of the biggest names in spoken word, most notably Dwayne Morgan with Toronto’s Up From the Roots, Truth Is… with the Burlington Slam, RC Weslowski from Vancouver, El Jones from Halifax, and John Akpata on Ottawa’s Capital Slam team.

CFSW 2010 Ottawa opens with a Francophone Showcase featuring Outaouais poet Marjolaine Beauchamp and closes with performances by the festival’s Poets of Honour Anthony Bansfield a.k.a. ‘the nth digri’ and Shauntay Grant.

CFSW 2010 Ottawa’s Daytime Programming is entirely FREE! Poets and poetry enthusiasts are welcome to attend workshops and panel discussions on poetry writing, spoken word in schools, and connecting with other arts organizations. There will also be a Last Chance Slam on October 12 to determine the festival’s ‘Wild Card’ Team, a Youth Showcase on October 13, and a Steve Sauvé Memorial Nerd Showcase on October 14. The poets will hit the streets of Ottawa ‘Guerrilla style’ on the afternoon of October 15 to perform random acts of poetry in the downtown core.

Following the slams, there will be late-night events highlighting the poetry of music: the Poetry & Music Cabaret featuring Scruffmouth, Moe Clark, and SPIN on October 13; the Slam After-Party with Montréal’s DJ Cosmo on October 14; and Toronto’s Kobo Town and Ottawa’s John Carroll & the Epic Proportions will grace the stage on October 15.

Shane Koyczan

Spoken word poetry in Canada has boomed over the last few years with numerous achievements across the country and around the world. In January of this year, Shane Koyczan introduced spoken word to the world at the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver when he performed his poem “We Are More” at the Opening Ceremonies. This past summer, Ottawa’s Ian Keteku, member of the spoken word group The Recipe and one of the workshop facilitators at CFSW 2010 Ottawa, won the World Poetry Slam Cup in Paris, France.

The Canadian Festival of Spoken Word takes place in numerous venues in downtown Ottawa (see the attached CFSW 2010 Ottawa press release and schedule for details) from October 12 to 16, 2010. For more information, please call the CFSW 2010 Ottawa hotline 613 301 8648, email info[at]cfsw[dot]ca, or visit www.cfsw.ca.

Tickets and Passes

Tuesday FREE ALL DAY | Slams Wednesday and Thursday $10 at the door

Semi-Finals Friday $10 adv./$15 door | Finals Saturday $15 adv./$20 door

Festival Pass $40

Advance Tickets and Festival Passes available

East African Restaurant | 376 Rideau Street | 613 789 7397

Compact Music | 190 Bank St. | 613 233 7626 | 785½ Bank St. | 613 233 8922

Vertigo Records | 193 Rideau Street | 613 241 1011

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I’m not sure which title is more accurate. Probably the latter. Though I like to think of myself as a Londoner while I’m living in the city. I try not to unfold maps and wave them around in public (in fact, I’ve resisted buying a map to avoid that temptation altogether), and I try not to ask for directions too frequently. This, of course, has resulted in my getting lost on several occasions. But, hey, at least I’m wearing cute outfits while wandering around desperately searching for the underground.

I feel like I’m way overdue for a blog entry. My reasons for the delay are three-fold:

  1. LIFT Festival kept me busy! Oh my goodness, we’re talking about 12-17 hour days. Part of that is travel time: living in Upminster means it take 1-2 hours to get anywhere in central London. Also, there were a few complications with the company from Tunisia: set pieces and props arriving late, trying to organize rehearsal space, and arranging for media interviews in our few spare hours. Even after the company returned home, I was keen to attend other LIFT shows, including Home Sweet Home, Music for Seven Ice Cream Vans, Beloved and Haircuts by Children.

    Music for Seven Ice Cream Vans

  2. I’m still working on my thesis. Nuff said.
  3. I’m applying for jobs in London. Man, I hadn’t realized what hard work that can be! I haven’t actually applied for a job in about 5 years: in Ottawa, people have been nice enough to offer them to me based on my prior qualifications. Also, I’ve been in school, so I haven’t had to worry too much about having a full-time job that actually pays a full-time salary. I’m really hoping for this Assistant Producer job with the Gate Theatre in Notting Hill. Check out the description: isn’t it so perfect for me? They have a mini outdoors festival on this week, and I definitely plan to attend/participate in some shows.

Gate Theatre presents DOMINI PÚBLIC

So yes, if I do find an arts job, I plan to live here permanently for at least one year. I’m looking forward to this adventure, but there a few things I’ll have to get used to. I’m going to provide a list of London quirks for anyone thinking of visiting or living here in the near future. Perhaps some fellow Londoners would like to add some items in the comments section. But for now:

  • People see theatre. Like, it’s not a completely niche thing. There is an audience for professional theatre. There is an audience for community theatre. There is an audience for children’s theatre. And there is an audience for weird little site-specific outdoor pieces that take places in obscure corners of the city. I love that people are aware of the arts around them. It is very inspiring.
  • The underground (and all associated forms of transportation) is both a blessing and a curse. Yes, the trains are frequent and generally reliable — except when there is construction, which happens every weekend and some weekdays. In those cases, some lines are closed entirely and you have to reroute your trip. And then the tube stops running just after midnight, even on weekends! Thankfully there are night buses that are in operation across the city. Unfortunately, as I mentioned, I’m living in Upminster, which requires a long train ride to get home… which means my nights end before 11pm. Not much time for a post-show drink.
  • There is little to no public recycling. Plus most of the little Italian cafes charge extra if you want to “eat in”, so everyone gets take-out and just throws the waste in the garbage afterward. It makes me cringe so much.
  • Don’t bother asking for directions. Most people hardly know where they’re going, let alone where you’re trying to go. Just check the detailed maps at bus stops.
  • Bang Said The Gun satisfies my need for awesomeness every week. This loud and rambunctious series focuses on spoken word, but welcomes every other kind of art form and every kind of artist. The organizers were incredibly sweet with me, and they even added my name to the (competitive) open mic list even though I arrived a bit late – again, thanks to changes on the underground. Through this series, I found out that London is brimming with poetry shows, and I plan to attend as many of them as possible! Props also to Poetry Unplugged at the Poetry Cafe.
  • It doesn’t actually rain that much. Uh, knock on wood.
  • Very few people have commented on my accent. It seems like everyone in London has a slightly different accent, depending on the neighbourhood, or because they come from Ireland or Wales or Scotland or some other part of the world. Each accent is as individual as the people who carry them. It’s kind of beautiful, actually.
  • London to Paris by train takes just over 2 hours and costs £130 return trip – that is, if you book only two weeks in advance. Oh, by the way, I’m going to Paris for a few days in August. Yippee!

I plan to return to Ottawa on August 16. Until then, I’m going to discover some London hot spots! Keep you posted.

Shakespeare's house for rent. Anyone?

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It’s the most wonderful time of the year! 10 days of theatre, fun, and scandal. I am so excited.

I’ve been involved with the Ottawa Fringe Festival in one way or another since 2001. I started out as a volunteer; I directed a multicultural, bilingual, spoken word romance in 2005; and I’ve covered the festival for various publications.

This year I’m involved with the festival as both a reviewer and a performer. Hello, conflict of interest!

As a reviewer, I will be writing for Fully Fringed, a brand new initiative that aims to review every single show at the Ottawa Fringe Festival. That’s 63 local, national, and international productions altogether. The Wellington Oracle and Apartment 613 have joined forces to create this fantastic website that will feature the work of 15 informed and enthusiastic local theatre critics. Mainstream print newspapers no longer have the means to cover Ottawa theatre as much as they might like (as much as I might like…), so the fabulous social media folks will be taking the lead this time. Go team!

Another new initiative at this year’s Ottawa Fringe Festival is The Jessie. You’ll be able to find this gossip sheet at all Fringe venues and scattered around the Fringe Courtyard. Produced by Evan Thornton and co-edited by Sterling Lynch and yours truly, this newsletter will tell you everything you wanted to know – and didn’t want to know – about the Ottawa Fringe. Please send gossip tips to thejessie2010@yahoo.ca.

Finally – as you can see in my Upcoming Performances section – I will be performing with amazing spoken word artists from the Capital Poetry Collective in the BYOV (Bring Your Own Venue) in the basement of the Royal Oak at 161 Laurier Avenue East, near the University of Ottawa. Tickets are $10 at the door, and all shows start at 9:15pm. Contact me directly if you want to take part in the Open Poetry Show on Saturday, June 26. All poets are welcome!

Here’s the full schedule:

June 19 and 20 : “Attack of the Dreadlocks” John Akpata and Prufrock

June 21 and 22 : “The Copper Conundrum” Danielle K. L. Gré goire, Rusty Priske, and Kevin Matthews

June 23 : BWANAGEEK – The Life and Work of Steve Motherf@*!ing Sauve (A Rambling Nerd Epic)

June 24 and 25 : “The Adorkables”  Nadine Thornhill, Jessica Ruano, Faye Estrella, Thomas McKinlay

June 26 : Open Poetry Show: mixed bag of spoken word artists

*** Watch video interviews with the artists on Ottawa Tonite ***

There are dozens of incredible shows at the Ottawa Fringe Festival this year. And you only have from June 17 to 27 to see them! Check out the website http://www.ottawafringe.com/ for descriptions of the shows, or pick up a brochure on site. No matter which show(s) you choose to see, I guarantee you will have an amazing time.

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I would like to draw your attention to the following video.

Here, Shane Koyczan performs his own spoken word piece entitled “We Are More” in a promotional video created by Canadian Tourism.

He performed the same piece at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics Opening Ceremonies atop an intimidatingly tall stage structure surrounded by millions of people with millions more watching him on live television.

I thought that was pretty cool.

There have been some valid criticisms about his poem and performance. As someone familiar with Shane’s poetry and music, I have to say he’s written and performed better. His piece utilized numerous Canadian cliches (intentionally, as the poem does clearly state that “we are more” than these cliches; but still) and doesn’t really say anything truly revolutionary about Canada.

I completely acknowledge this. And yet, it really doesn’t bother me: because I think that the supreme coolness of having spoken word – performed by a reputable spoken word poet – at the Olympics far surpasses any quibbles I or anyone else might have about the content. Though a mention of the Francophone community, I agree, would have been nice.

Some people (heck, most people) in Canada have never heard of spoken word. This was a gentle, accessible introduction to the art form: perhaps not the most exemplary piece we could have offered (it was used as a tourism video, for heaven’s sake), but something decent that garnered a lot of attention and will very likely inspire people to look up spoken word on the internet, and thereby discover other amazing spoken word poets across Canada and around the world. I am grateful to Shane for creating this buzz around the art form.

Here’s something I’ve realized: whenever you do something interesting, noteworthy, or appear in any sort of public arena, it is inevitable that some people will love you and others will find something to hate about you. Regardless of whether or not it was your intention to be controversial.

This morning I noticed that some people were writing rather harsh messages on Shane’s Facebook Group, calling the poem “fake” and accusing him of “bastardizing” the art form*. I found this… unnecessary. It seems that these people wanted what this poem wasn’t: they wanted (and I’m paraphrasing here) an activist piece that pointed out what is wrong with Canada and what we can do to effect change.

From what I understand, this poem was intended to be celebratory, not an excuse to make grand statements about the tar sands in Alberta, the homeless situation in Vancouver, our pathetic federal government, or cuts to arts funding. Yes, these topics are important — but do you honestly think the Olympics committee would have programmed a political tirade for the opening ceremonies? Does everything have to be about anarchy?

Honestly, though, I want to know: what should this poem have told us about Canada? Should it have been celebratory or critical, or both? Are these whiny little buggers just jealous, or are they making a valid point?

By the way, there is a full version of “We Are More” on the House of Parlance website. Have a listen.

*One of these comments has now been removed by its author.

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