Spoken word speaks volumes

Spoken word is a revival of oral tradition, of passing stories from one generation to another purely through word of mouth, almost tapping into a primordial human sensitivity. National SLAM! organizer Sheri-D Wilson goes as far to say the narrative spoken word is founded upon is embedded in our DNA or RNA, a genetic memory that binds us to humanity in a rather subliminal and exciting fashion.

Wordsmiths are descending upon Calgary to promote this interconnected art form as the 2008 National SLAM! and Canadian Festival of Spoken Word readies for its Nov. 5 kickoff. The showcase of performance poetry hosts artists from across Canada to celebrate and promote spoken word performance and will see 11 spoken word teams competing for the highest of glories: a national spoken word crown. Besides this tantalizing cut of competition, there will also be various spoken word heavyweights present, headlining events and leading workshops.

Wilson is an apt representation of the high-profile talent at the festival. The spoken word guru has written from a young age and, although she was born in Calgary, began to perform publicly in Vancouver.

“I started doing wild performances that weren’t comedy or monologues,” Wilson says. “Poetry had become stale, unapproachable and trapped in the halls of the academics, [where it] had died.”

Wilson says that energy and vitality was criticized by many in the literary community.

“I was looked at like a freak, but I was alright with that because I wasn’t like them,” she recalls.

Wilson’s literary vigour led her to Naropa and the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics, where she studied and worked with many of the great minds of a since relegated generation, like Allen Ginsberg and Anne Waldman. Following this education, Wilson published five collections of poetry and several video poems while contributing enormously to the creation of spoken word in its current format. Since returning to Calgary six years ago, she formed the Calgary Spoken Word Society and the city’s first slam team. She credits the city’s community for spoken word’s rapid growth.

“The new generation of poets and people otherwise interested in spoken word are optimistic and not judgmental,” she says. “This generation has an affinity for giving space.”

For Wilson, this willingness of Calgary’s younger people to grant anyone artistic space has done a lot to encourage the spoken word genre in Calgary, though she’d always like to see more involvement.

“You see the everyday in spoken word,” she says. “How can you not like it? It’s just five bucks [to get in] and you can leave whenever you want.”

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