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The Rustbelt Poetry Slam

Posted by Guest Contributor / May 26, 2009

The Rustbelt Poetry SlamThe Americans are coming! To be precise, the American slam poets are coming to Toronto, from May 28 to 31. They are touching down on Hogtown soil for the Rustbelt Poetry Slam, an annual slam fest featuring teams from the U.S. and Ontario. For the first time in the Slam's nine-year history, Toronto will be hosting this American spoken word competition.

For the uninitiated, a poetry slam is a competition where poets perform their poems and judges picked from the audience score each poem between 0 and 10. Poets have a time limit of three minutes and ten seconds, and can't use any props, costumes or instruments. Slam started 22 years ago by Mark Smith in Chicago, and it's been storming stages from Oakland to Austin to Victoria to London, Ontario. Toronto's own monthly slam has been running at the Drake Hotel Underground for the past three years.

So far, competing teams at Rustbelt include Toronto (two teams), Detroit, Cleveland, Columbus and Brooklyn-Columbus. Two slots are still available for the Wildcard Toronto Team, so hungry poets should remember to go out Thursday May 29 to the Dominion on Queen at 7:30 p.m.

Artistic Director Matt Toth (aka Gypsy Eyes - pictured above) spoke to me about why Toronto is ripe to host this buffet of spoken word. "With three monthly slams in Toronto and an emerging regional scene with slams in Ottawa, London, Burlington, and Guelph, the time is now for all of those slams to be exposed to what a regional community can do to the sum of its parts," he said.

Matt is on the Toronto team alongside Made Wade, Danejahras and Jill Christmas.

What's really exciting the burgeoning slam scene in Toronto is the Finals event. Held on Saturday May 30, slam poets will be performing at the Bloor Cinema for the first time. The historic cinema will soon be filled with rhythmic metaphor slinging and crowds wildly applauding lines of poetry. That's the thing with slam - you don't sit on your hands at these events. The spoken word intensity compels you to shout, scream, laugh loudly and boo scores you disagree with.

What about the rivalry between the U.S. and Canada at this year's Rustbelt? "Well, there has always been a friendly interstate rivalry, in that Michigan teams will cheer for other Michigan teams, Ohio for Ohio," explains Toth. "However this will be the first Rustbelt with more than one Canadian team so we may see that for the first time this year."

The slam teams are vying for more than just bragging rights. The winning team of this year's Rustbelt takes home $300 US, and the indie competitor (the individual-poet competition happens May 30) wins $100 US.

Toth is quick to point out another appealing angle to the festival. On Sunday May 31, selected poets from the Rustbelt competition will perform at Kensington Market during Pedestrian Sunday. The performance will take over the space outside Graffiti's on Kensington Avenue at 12:30 pm.

For details on all the prelim bouts, see below:

Thursday May 28
Wild Card Slam (slam for 2 slots on the Wild Card Team) @ Dominion on Queen (500 Queen St E)
Doors at 7pm, $5 Cover

Friday May 29
First Preliminaries @ Poor Alex Theatre (772 Dundas St W)
Doors at 7pm, $8 Cover

Saturday May 30
Second Preliminaries @ Trane Studio (964 Bathurst St)
Doors at 11:30am, $8 Cover

Saturday May 30 (evening)
Individual and Team Finals @ Bloor Cinema (506 Bloor St W)
Doors at 7pm, $15 in advance, $20 at the door

Festival passes cost $25. For more info, check out www.rustbelttoronto.com. Writing by David Silverberg. Photo by Emily Muir.

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