Mike Smith

Reppin' Toronto at CFSW07: The White Noise Machine


He's not afraid to question crooked cops, he makes his voice heard in print and on the web, and can often be found on his bike in Kensington Market. In fact, there is very little The White Noise Machine shies away from, and he brings these experiences to his commanding presence when he takes the stage.

Mike Smith (aka The White Noise Machine) is one of the ten poets representing Toronto at the Canadian Festival of Spoken Word in Halifax this year. Toronto will be sending two teams — one from Dave Silverberg's Toronto Poetry Slam scene and one from Dwayne Morgan's Up From the Roots scene — to compete against teams from across the country all vying for spoken word supremacy.

If last year's CFSW in Toronto was any indication, this year's competition is going to be incredibly intense and will feature some of the best spoken word anyone in this country has ever seen.

I had the opportunity to have an email exchange with some of the poets — Mike being one of them — representing Toronto at the Canadian Festival of Spoken Word in Halifax this year and ask them a few questions about what they expect from the upcoming experience. Of course, since they're poets, I'm including their answers verbatim: why mess with a poet's own mastery of the language?

Here's what The White Noise Machine had to say:

When did you start to get involved in the spoken word scene? What got you interested in the first place?

When I started living in Toronto years ago, I already had some theatre experience, and was already writing poetry - but not for performance, just as a way to figure myself and my world out.

I was drawn to the lively scene here, and found my orbit in a solar system of people keeping the door between page and stage open. I liked not only that we were providing entertainment that was (at the best of times) thought-provoking, but that we were doing it ourselves, as a community, without dropping coin in Paramount's cup and turning our brains off for three hours.

For my original community, that's culminated in the Toronto Poetry Slam, which celebrates its second birthday in November.

How has the spoken word community in Toronto help you develop your poetry and how has it influenced other parts of your life?

The answer to both is that it's exposed me to so many different ways of being - as an artist, and as a person. At the best of times, the spoken word scene's like a candy shop, and I can pick and choose my influences from hiphop artists, actors, standup comedians, brilliant page poets, and a special few who simply defy categorization in their art and their living.

And the opportunity to travel as a performing poet has given me a lot of trust in people, in circumstance, and in the generosity of the road toward people who take chances.

How does it feel to represent Toronto in Halifax this year? What are your goals for this year's CFSW?

Honestly, I don't feel like I'm "representing Toronto." I've just been given a chance to take part in a meeting of poetic minds and spirits. This will be my third CFSW, and any poet who's participated in national and regional slams can tell you, the biggest privilege is all the things you learn. I'm going there to get infected with some rad beauty, then come back here and spread the contagion.

And, OK, it would be nice to make it to the final stage as a team - there's no rush quite like the rush you get the second before stepping to the mic. And I guess my goal with slam in general is to figure out how it can be not just a stage, but a site for healing and envisioning, for people whose voices have really been stifled or forgotten to get up and get heard as well. I think in this society, in this age, anyone who gets a mic put in front of them has some responsibility to occasionally speak truth to power, or hand it to someone else who can.

And now for some fun...extended metaphor time: if you were to compare your poetry to a famous Toronto resident, what Torontonian would you choose, and why?

I want to say Emma Goldman, since she had a flat here and is famously quoted as saying, "If I can't dance, I want no part of your revolution" - except she only lived in here for the end of her life, and never actually said that.

So let's go with William Lyon Mackenzie. Yes. My poetry is Toronto's first Mayor, William Lyon Mackenzie, who got drunk, roused a bunch of farmers in to taking shots at the army, then buggered off when it all fell apart. Minus the buggering off part. Oh, and the shooting at the army part. And, well, there's not too much drinking for me these days, either. Sorry, what was the question?

Mike "The White Noise Machine" Smith is one of the ten poets representing Toronto at the Canadian Festival of Spoken Word in Halifax this year. Keep checking blogTO for more updates about the festival and Toronto's progress during the competition.

Support Toronto's poets by attending the Up From The Roots Fundraiser on October 9 at Cervejaria at 8pm (more info on FB).

(Photo courtesy Mike Smith.)


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