Canadian Festival of Spoken Word

What to see at the Canadian Festival of Spoken Word

If you see a lot more poets on the streets of Toronto, blame the Canadian Festival of Spoken Word. From tomorrow through Saturday, more than 140 performance poets will be celebrating one of the fastest rising literary movements in the world: slam poetry.

Now in its eighth year, this roving festival features nightly poetry competition pitting 20 "teams" against each other, from Victoria to Halifax. These poets write for the stage, and they not only create solo poems but also duets and team pieces involving theatre, movement, beatboxing and more. This isn't the kind of poetry you'd see at Harbourfront; expect a more hiphop or musical vibe to the performances at CFSW '11.

Here are five can't miss event at this year's festival. For full listings check out the Canadian Festival of Spoken Word web site.

Oct. 12, 11pm: The Haiku Head-to-Battle, Clinton's back room, free
Fans of the ol' 5-7-5 poems will see serious range of haiku talent from across the country, as poets such as Valentino Assenza (Toronto) and RC Weslowski (Vancouver) perform haikus in a head-to-head format and get scored by three judges. Max 16 poets who can compete. Warning: some of these haikus can get raunchy.

Oct. 13, 4pm: Spin by Evalyn Parry, Tranzac, PWYC
Recently staged at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, Spin is Parry's latest theatrical multimedia work focusing on cycling and women's rights. The two themes blend together in a show using bike parts as instruments and old footage of some of the first suffragettes riding their two-wheeled steeds. Parry will present a special one-hour version of Spin at CFSW.

Oct. 14, 7pm: CFSW Semifinals, Royal Cinema, $20 at door, $15 in advance
The prelim bouts from Oct 11 to 13 culminate with the semifinals where the top eight teams duke it out with rhythmic words. Poetry takes over the beautiful Royal Cinema (for the first time?), and Little Italy will later be overrun with metaphor nerds as poets make their way from the Royal to the Pilot for a late-night music showcase featuring C.R. Avery, Brenadan McLeod and Terra Hazelton.

Oct. 15, 2pm: Youth Slam, Tranzac, PWYC
Toronto has enjoyed an energetic youth poetry scene, thanks to shows such as BAM! Toronto Youth Slam and the great work by Unity! in Scarborough. Now youth slam teams from Guelph, Toronto and Ottawa show us the next generation's talent, hosted by PAN (aka Yehuda Fisher).

Oct. 15, 8pm: CFSW Finals, Metro United Church, $25 at door, $20 in advance
Who will be crowned Canada's top spoken word team? The Finals sees the top four teams from Semifinals in a 4x4 bout format. Before the competition, though, Poets of Honour Robert Priest and d'bi young will rock the stage, giving us a taste of why they're legendary artists for younger poets to admire. All-night afterparty goes down at The Bowery.

Robert Frost once said "Poetry is taking life by the throat." Maybe the ominous p-word from high school doesn't grab you, but it's hard to deny how poetry slams and spoken word shows have enthralled Canadians in the past decade. Poetry slams in almost every province are sold out an hour after doors open. The CFSW is looking like it will serve as a reminder of what kind of talent is packing those shows coast to coast.

David Silverberg is host and co-founder of Toronto Poetry Slam, held monthly at the Drake Hotel Underground. He's the artistic director of the 2011 Canadian Festival of Spoken Word and an occasional contributor to this web site. Find him at @topoetryslam

Photo by Emily Muir

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