Aug 28

Calgary SLAM! At The Auburn Saloon

by Wil Knoll · 0 comments

Free therapy has a five-dollar cover charge.

I needed to have a poetry slam explained to me.

Or I thought I did. The questions I primarily had surrounded its competitive nature. Because of the competitiveness, is a slam like a rap battle? Were you supposed to hurl invectives at the other poets in order to gain the approval of the audience? It was a very quick realization that no, that’s not what it’s about. Slams are about community, smiles, and great words and diverse rhythms lifting, rising, falling, and cresting over images and emotions.

The Auburn Saloon played home to the Calgary International Spoken Word Festival’s final SLAM! on August 27th. Still in the afterglow of the Betty Mitchell Awards, poets and word lovers crowded The Burn. The night was a flow of quiet attention, energetic readings, thunderous applause and encouragement to heckle the judges. First round is a wild card, to see who would go and compete with previous SLAM! winners for spots on the Calgary team for the traveling circuit. The wild card was followed by an open mic session, and then the night got down to business with the two final rounds. Each reader is awarded points on a scale of one to ten by three judges. Going over three minutes earns you a penalty, and then the community shouts you off the stage. The entrance fee is five bucks, which goes to fund the teams travels to other competitions.

Wakefield Brewster nails me to the bar as soon as I get my first pint. I turn around as he bounds up to the stage, and am almost immediately caught up in his torrent. His work is the staccato lyrical flow that sits at the junction of common language and high concepts. He’s confused, energetically struggling to sort out his surroundings and the way to something more real, more right.

You ever dream of work?” he challenges me outside later, discussing how his work is influenced by our rat race and the dreams of something far away. “Dreaming of work? What’s that? I love what’s not the common concrete under our feet.” He pulls influences from his life back in Toronto, science fiction and anime. He’s an unabashed Star Trek fan, calling Sarak a hard core Vulcan. “All you have to remember is two words, Coyote Kings” he cites one of his influences, The Coyote Kings of the Space-Age Bachelor Pad by Minister Faust. The book is a blend of Sci-Fi, Black Canadian history, and mythology. Wakefield’s poetry is just as diverse in it’s images as is his influences.

The night was almost as diverse and eclectic. A steak at dinner pauses someone long enough to discover how blessed we are in life. Choked tears for a once thought loved one transform into strength. Dreams of mother Africa lift the tongues of a generation ready to earn their tradition. Fast food cravings detail a girl’s destructive pattern with lovers. The sounds of Kananaskis country lights the eyes of a young soul. There are assorted snaps from the audience. A potent thought grabs a thin hawkish man; he raises both arms into the air and “Yeahs!” snapping furiously when the rhythm hits him squarely in a personal realization.

I had never been to a poetry SLAM! before. But after being so moved by some of the readings, I’m lead to believe that it’s accessible to anyone. Everyone should take at least one in. It is accessible because words are the simple keys for all of our bodies, minds and hearts. When the right words are used with the right thought and intent, they become magic and can reorganize the things inside. I felt physically moved at times. Air would fall out of my body, feeling like falling awake almost.

As the Final SLAM! wrapped up, the announcement was made and the Calgary team selected. Wakefield, who came in through the wildcard and has represented Calgary on the SLAM! team previously, earned himself a spot. The official announcement from CISWF is still coming, but the SLAM! team looks well equipped to take on whatever their travels throw them into.

In the end, as we receive from the poet, so does the poet from the process and participants. “Poetry is like free therapy.” says Wakefield, drawing welcoming shapes with his arms as we talk. Wakefield moves like he speaks – cut ups of long flowing thoughts bookended by tight fragments. “I don’t have the answers. I’m calling out for help.” Giving it to him by being the listener is just too rewarding.

Free therapy all around.

More info about the Calgary Spoken Word Festival can be found on their web page.

The Auburn Saloon is located at the base of the Calgary Tower.
163-115 9 Avenue SE
(403) 266-6628

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