Drawing Lines

Posted: August 26, 2014 in Uncategorized

How long has it been since I posted a poem… yet I am way behind. Why is that?

Explanation:

CONTEXT: April, 2012

Some things happened in the national poetry community around then. Or, more exactly, things that had been happening came to my attention around then.

I was angry.

REALLY angry.

So I wrote about it and performed it at the CapSlam… semis? Finals?

I received a partial standing ovation and not really great marks. It seems that people who understand it liked it, but it went past others.

So why haven’t I posted it?

Because I wanted to slam it again when I got to it in my book.

And then I got to it in my book.

And I tried to re-memorize it… and put it off… and again and again…

The problem is that it is a very angry poem and two years later, I don’t feel angry. Instead I feel sad, disappointed and a little ashamed at how little has been done to REALLY change things.

So, instead of performing the poem, I have done some things to try and change things. Some things. I don’t claim anything, though…

So, here is the poem.

Drawing Lines

Lines have been drawn,
Lines to pick sides
And chalk outlines
Marking innocence and
Aggressive ostrich-necking
With sand filling ears and eyes
Grinding down the resolve
For justice.
I thought we were so lucky.
We built a home of love and ideas,
A canopy of voices held aloft
By a support beam of art
Braced on a foundation of
Respect and openness,
But my onion-peel blinders’
Rosy glow comes from
A mixture of blood and sweat.
Cutting into that onion
Too quickly brings stinging tears
Leaving lines of pain
Printed on my face
For everyone to read.

We have asked for years
Why women were less likely
To lay roots in our soil.
I had theories about wind and
Rain – finding the best
Environmental conditions
To grow and nurture -
Never knowing that irrigation
Liens were for naught
As incisions were being
Made at the root -
Fresh fruit
Plucked from the vine -
But even these analogies
Hurt and make cute
Out of a poison
That turns to fire in
My veins.

This is my home,
And seeing my home
Turned into a grazing pen
Where judging eyes come
Not from white boards
But red-lines predator gazes
May as well be wrist-cut
Bloodlines.
It wasn’t here that I heard
The word rape.
But the line from appraising gaze
And art-rush inspiration to
Supportive ear and helping
Your career to
Pressure points and
Exploiting weaknesses
Can’t always be washed away
By morning sun rays through
Drawn curtains across scarred skin.

I thought of this place as a haven
But I will try it tear it down
In a hail of fire and fury
Rather than let false safety
Turn into opportunity to
Shatter illusions and
Filling an ego tank with
Another’s lifeblood.

If you think this poem
Is about you and you have
Felt that wolf gaze that
Lingers even after you
Have left the room,
Then I am sorry.
I am sorry that I have
Worn these blinders for
So long that I forgot
That freedom can not be
Purchased at the expense
Of another.
I have failed you
And I will pluck out
My eyes before
I let them NOT see again.

And if you think
This poem is about you
Finding your gaze and
Ways questioned
As curves come before words
And your idea of being
Supportive is hard-wired
To suggestive and your
Mind stops in at your heart
Before continuing to the
South, know this -
Lines have been drawn
Exing out pick-up and
Deal closing lines
Because no space is safe
If it isn’t safe
For everyone.

Rusty’s Mini-Tour!

Posted: August 12, 2014 in Uncategorized

What a crazy couple of weeks.

There were high points… low points… everything an epic tale requires.

First, let’s go way back… to the beginning of last winter.

I started noticing that my feet hurt at the end of the day. I just figured it was because I was now wearing heavier footwear due to the weather. As the winter progressed, my feet started hurting more and more and earlier and earlier.

Ruthanne was convinced I should buy new boots but when I checked out the ones I have, there was no significant signs of wear. They weren’t breaking down in any way. There was zero reason to believe something had changed in my boots to cause this.

Spring came and gone were the boots and back to my default… Converse sneakers.

Well, obviously these were shoes without great support. Then one day I woke up in absolute pain. I could barely walk. I made an appointment to see the doctor. I went and bought supportive shoes.

(There are good parts to all of this, I promise…)

So, back on July 24th I went to the doctor (just in time as my feet had progressed to real agony at times), and was diagnosed with ‘falling arches’. I got some anti-inflammatory medicine and things were looking up. The medicine was working quickly and I could feel things getting better.

Oh, in what seemed like a minor thing, I noticed my shoulder was a little stiff that day. Nothing too bad, but it was a little sore.

On Friday I picked up my CapSlam Teammate, Candice, and we headed down to Guelph, to meet up with the rest of the team and perform at the Hillside Festival. This would be the first time we all shared a stage together since the CapSlam Finals. We have been working and doing fund raising etc., but generally in ones or twos… not the whole group.

But…but… when I woke up, my feet were better, but my shoulder was a lot worse. The pain had moved down into my arm and driving from Ottawa to Guelph did me NO favours.

Still, we had a good time at Hillside! I got to see some friends from the wider poetry community. I got to see the TPS team perform. I got to perform alongside my team. It was great!

Nobody from the team was coming back with me on Saturday so I climbed back into the car and started driving back to Ottawa.

Ow.

I had a bit of adrenaline after a great performance but by the time I got home, my arm was a mess.

Then it got worse.

Trying to sleep was the real issue. Any time I would move at all, I would wake up in pain. I couldn’t get more than a few hours in a stretch. I ended up calling in sick from work on Monday. Then I worked on Tuesday, thinking it felt a little better. By the end of the day I knew that wasn’t true. Wednesday I was back at the doctor’s and was diagnosed with Adhesive Capsulitis. It is also known as ‘frozen shoulder’. Basically, my arm hurt a lot. It was going to keep hurting a lot. Getting it fixed would hurt a lot. It could take as long as a year to be symptom free (though that doesn’t mean it would be as bad as it was for that whole time).

I took to wearing a sling to keep casual movements and nudges from driving pain through me. That sometimes worked. Rush hour bus rides were a special problem. (Side note… standing on the bus with my arm in a sling, in clear discomfort on a crowded bus… number of times I was offered one of those courtesy seats by the healthy looking people sitting in them? Zero. That is out of about a half dozen trips when the bus was that full.)

We had a CapSlam that weekend. I made out fine as DJ. I didn’t slam. (CapSlam teammate, Avonlea won!)

Coming up was a big weekend for me! I had been invited to come and feature at the Toronto Poetry Slam! This would be my first solo feature in the Toronto area (I have had lots of solo features elsewhere, but never in Toronto. I HAVE featured there, but only when I was with The Recipe).

We then arranged for a CapSlam fundraising show in Whitby with Gavin (yet another teammate…)

Could I drive down?

Ruthanne ended that talk pretty quickly. We changed plans so she could come on the trip as well… so she could drive.

So, not only would I NOT be in pain the whole trip (more than my standard level), but Ruthanne would come on the trip with me! Extra fun!

As the trip got closer, though, things looked… less than great. I had one of my bad nights on Thursday and ended up calling in sick on Friday. My arm was really sore and I was completely exhausted. I rested up on Friday and then Saturday we piled into the car and drove to Whitby.

Ruthanne immediately fell in love with the town… or at least the part of town we were in. Beautiful old buildings everywhere. We came in with time to go for some dinner and we went to a BIG pub type place that had a Shrimp Po’Boy on the menu. (Side note: the Shrimp Po’Boy I had at The House of Blues in Orlando was the best sandwich I have ever eaten. I have been trying to find one that good ever since. This one was also not THAT good… but it was still good.

Fun, side note, when we ordered, Ruthanne told the waitress that we were ‘on the clock’ and had to get to a show at a certain time. She asked Ruthanne is we were going to see a play. Ruthanne said, no, it is spoken word and that I was featuring there. After a quick explanation that she meant ‘slam poetry’, the waitress said that she had been to show of that at the Drake one time and really liked it. I smiled and said, “that is where I am featuring tomorrow”.

Rusty the rock star. :)

Then… in my never-ending string of painful incidents lately, we went to cross the road to get back to our car. Ruthanne saw an opening and jogged across. I made the mistake of following her. My feet have all but stopped hurting, due to the medicine I was taking. The first step in my little run undid all the progress I had made. It felt like I had stepped on a nail that drove straight up into my heel.

We got to the venue where I just sat and tried to get my set straight in my head. I was very uncomfortable – could barely walk – and what seemed like a fun time got lots less fun.

But then the show started. We had some great guest performers who had offered their time to help us raise some money. In addition to Gavin we had Vince Kang, Same Difference, Shawna Dmitry, Thuderclaw and Nathan de Rushe. Ian Creo Walters was hosting.

By the time we got to my set, I was feeling revitalized by the poetry in the room. I got up there, and while my foot was still hurting and my shoulder was still hurting, I felt good.

I did my set. I started with Day One and ended with 1968 and did some work I was proud of in between. People laughed. People listened. People appreciated. The crowd wasn’t large but it was very receptive and giving.

In the end it was a great night. I sold a BUNCH of my books – both the new one and the older one – and we raised a bunch of money for the team.

Then Ruthanne and I got back into the car and drove into Toronto where we were staying with TPS super-organizer, Dave Silverberg!

Dave was a great host and when we got up on Sunday, Dave and I were off to the Blue Jays game! Dave knew I was a fan and asked me in advance if I would like to go to a game. (Ruthanne likes baseball too, but by the time she was coming with me due to my health issues, we already had tickets. She spent her time in vintage clothing stores and a museum instead.)

And WHAT A GAME!

The Tigers scored 5 runs early and it looked like were in for a dud, but Dioner Navarro hit a two-run shot and David Price left the game. The Jays feasted on Phil Coke and tied things up in the ninth. Dave and I had to leave after ten innings because we had a show to go to (I WAS in town for something other than the game…) and as the afternoon/evening wore on I kept getting updates from Brad and my sister Toni as the game went on… and on… and on… until Toronto won in NINETEEN INNINGS!

Wow.

Now, in a good mood, but still hurting a little bit, it was time for TPS! I got to watch Gavin kick some slam ass, rocking his way to a big win and I got to do a set that went over quite well (though maybe not QUITE as well as Whitby the night before).

Side note: The Toronto crowd is quite a bit quieter than Ottawa. Appreciative, but just in a different way.

It went well. I got lots of audience compliments after. I sold and signed more books.

(And I got ‘that guy’ who insists that me trying to be nice to someone in ‘The Stranger’, AFTER I HAD JUST EXPLAINED MY GOAL OF TRYING TO MAKE LIFE BETTER FOR SOMEBODY EVERY DAY, is somehow insulting men. I gave my polite response where I explained that I never said that I HAD to cross the street, but rather I CHOSE to cross the street. He thought that I was just ‘enabling them’. It is a tough conversation for me because I find this argument insanely stupid, ignorant and uncaring… BUT, I also openly tell people to feel free to criticize whatever I say so…)

Back to Ottawa on Monday, ending in a good team meeting with the whole team including coach. It was productive.

I’ve got something to say, yo. A couple of features and a great meeting and I feel refreshed, reenergized, GREAT!

I didn’t even wear my sling to work today. I just feel too good. (I brought it, just in case. I’m not stupid.) :)

I am ready for the world.

I have another feature this month at In/Words. I have the festival in October. I have features in October in Victoria and Vancouver.

Anybody else want to book me?

I don’t normally ‘put myself out there’ but I really feel like I have something to say right now. I feel really good about my set.

Oh… and I have to order more books already. :)

THIS IS DAY ONE!

Posted: July 23, 2014 in Uncategorized

My new book has gone to the printers!

Available now on-line and soon in person (hopefully by August 9th…)

Day One

Posted: June 9, 2014 in Uncategorized

DAY ONE

On Saturday I featured at the CPC Summer Slam.

It was my favourite feature that I have ever done. Period.

I won’t claim it was my BEST feature. I forgot my poem one line in on the FIRST poem (I got it right back, though). There was also a bit where I realized I had been going faster than planned and stumbled around trying to find an extra poem in my notebook (before realizing I had the wrong notebook to find the poem I was looking for).

But it was still my favourite feature I have ever done.

Let’s back up a bit.

See that picture up there? The picture was made for me by Erin Dingle – super poet and design expert. It is based on a poem that I debuted at the CapSlam Finals… and has come to mean so much more to me that that.

Right after the semi-finals, and long after I had ‘nailed down’ which poems I was doing for finals, I came up with an idea… in a dream… for a new poem. It involved using two microphones and having a conversation (with myself) explaining my stance on speaking up against the problems I see around me. Very quickly I realized that the gimmick got in the way and I just started writing what I wanted to say.

It became ‘Day One’.

The instant I finished it, it felt like I was READING it rather than having written it. It was a message TO ME. This wasn’t just a poem.

It was a statement of intent. It was a philosophy. It was a WAY OF BEING.

Now, I am not trying to claim that I came up with something new, here. I am also not claiming that it is a radical departure from what I had already been doing. It was more like everything coalesced into a tangible, clear idea of a path to… enlightenment?

Overstatement, but the idea is there. This felt like my ‘coming to religion’ moment.

For those who haven’t heard it yet, let me explain ‘Day One’.

‘Day One’ is the idea that every day can be an opportunity to make the world better. Still, though, that doesn’t quite explain it, because of the vastness of the scope involved.

Instead, think of it as the opportunity to make the world better on a MANAGEABLE scale.

I, like many people, have been having a real problem with the ‘state’ of the world. Looking out and seeing the state of things – whether it be wealth-based classism, environmental degradation, rampant misogyny, racism, homophobia, transphobia… general selfishness… the constant conservative push in Canada (which fits into the last point as well…) War. Poverty. Hatred. Disease. Anti-science. Xenophobia.

EVERY DAY there is more to show us that humanity is trying to prove it is pretty much a horrible thing.

But there are still those who want better. There are still those who want peace. There are still those who want to help the poor, stamp out prejudice, create art or advance knowledge.

But, how? How can you do ANYTHING to change ANYTHING? One person can’t change the world.

I can’t eliminate rape culture. I can’t eliminate racism. I can’t ensure an equal distribution of wealth worldwide.
I can’t do anything.

But, it isn’t true. This is where ‘Day One’ comes in. It reminds me that I am just one person and can’t take the weight of the world on my shoulders. All I can do is all I can do.
So, every day is Day One. Every day I can do ONE THING to make the world better, if even for only one person. I can toss that can into the recycling bin instead of the trash can. I can cross that dark street, to make the woman walking ahead of me feel a little less anxious. I can speak out against the ever-present misogyny, homophobia, racism, transphobia, and whatever all kinds of hatred are being injected into our society by those who are invested in ensuring nothing changes.

And, to still make things clear, this is not always a sweetness and light movement. Sometimes making things better involves tearing things down and yelling at the top of my lungs.

This is who I am and my art is aligning itself.

Why did I enjoy my feature so much? Because I have started working on a ‘show’ that fits this philosophy together in a coherent fashion. On Saturday that just meant stringing four poems together with some connecting banter, but I hope it becomes much more than that. I will keep working on it but I hope that I will soon have a full-length show where I can really share what I mean about ‘Day One’.

By the fall I will have a new book – that is a commitment – complete with the cover designed by Erin Dingle, above.

Because this is Day One, and how did I make the world a better place today?

Could you imagine if everyone asked themselves that?

CPC Features

Posted: June 6, 2014 in Uncategorized

All summer the CPC Summer Slams will feature members of the 2014 CapSlam team.

Tomorrow, June 7th, we kick it off with… me!

Reach if you can! Mercury Lounge. 6:30 doors.

There is also a 3-1-3 slam so sign up and throw down!

So, I didn’t post here after Finals because I wasn’t really happy about it.

I am over it. Mostly.

I posted before finals that I was okay with not winning, and that was true.

What I was thinking about was me not performing as well as I had hoped.

What was more frustrating was that I felt like I killed my pieces and still didn’t do as well as I hoped.

Oh well.

First round I drew first. Bummer. I did a new poem called ‘Heroes’. I nailed it. I got scores. They were low but so were the sac scores so it might not be score creep…

Nope. I got score creeped hard. (As did Sarah…) Oh well. I still had two more poems.

Second round, I drew second. Bummer again. I did Angst. It went very well. I made up ground on nearly everybody. (Though not Gavin, who was in first, because he did just as well.)

Third round, I drew first again. Sigh. Nearly the WORST POSSIBLE draws.

I had good luck on draws all year. I guess this is payback.

I did another new poem, called ‘Day One’.

It went over really big. I nailed it and it seemed to really speak to people.

And then I got really bland scores.

On the night, I was really frustrated. It is worse to feel like you did everything RIGHT and not get the results you think you have earned, then to make mistakes.

I have been told that maybe I didn’t show enough range on the night. Maybe. At least that is a reason I can get behind.

Regardless, I am not unhappy now. I am on a cool seeming team with some talented teammates – most of whom have never had this opportunity before. We are at my favorite part of slamming – working with the team and forging new bonds.

Yay!

And besides, being unhappy that I didn’t get scores really pales in comparison to the insanity that followed this week.

Being reminded about how far we are away from a society that actually values people and doesn’t try to perpetuate imbalances by lashing out against those who are opposed to those imbalances is frustrating.

I’ll admit that watching the absolute meltdown by a misogynist on my Facebook wall was somewhat amusing. At least he can no longer claim to be ‘misundersood’. No chance of that now. You made yourself crystal clear.

Remember this important fact, men… whenever you respond to statements about the problems women face in our society with a statement that ‘not all men’ are like that, you are prioritizing avoiding blame over trying to fix the problem.

There are some things that only men can fix when it comes to the treatment of women. There are other things that men CANNOT fix.

But whichever issue you see, first-things-first, don’t be part of the problem. And when you prioritize avoiding blame you become part of the problem.

Seasonal Ranking Systems

Posted: May 29, 2014 in Uncategorized

I asked for topics dealing with slam that people wanted me to talk about.

Daniel, better known as DMP in some circles, asked about our seasonal ranking method. Daniel hails from Vancouver and it appears he likes the simpler version that they use out there.

Here is a topic that is dear to my heart.

I do want to start with a disclaimer that I am not trying to claim anyone is WRONG for using whatever method they use. I am just going to try to explain why it is that I think the method we use I better.

Let’s start with points-based systems like they use in Vancouver. After each slam, poets are given points based on their finish. The points are scaled so first place gets a lot more points than second etc. You get points added to your total and slam-bam, it’s all done.

Advantage to this system: It is simple. Anybody knows exactly where they are at all times. If you know you had 5 points and you know you gained 3 points, you know you now have 8 points.

It doesn’t get much simpler than that.

I will admit that this is a HUGE advantage. People who want to track their results have a very easy time. They don’t have to wait until the rankings are updated. (Though, to be fair, it is pretty rare that our rankings aren’t updated within a few hours of the slam ending as far as CapSlam goes. It takes longer fur Urban Legends or OYPS because I have to wait until the official results are sent to me.)

Disadvantages: there are a lot, in my opinion.

First off, what does it measure? Placement only. There is no difference between missing first place by .1 and missing it by 3.1, as long as nobody finished between you. It is also purely a ‘counting’ stat so it only tangentially measures the quality of the result (other than that you ‘count faster’ by doing better).

You have an interesting mix of discouraging people to slam as well. Since the system involves a cap on the number of times you can slam (which you need in any counting system, otherwise it will be quantity you are measuring over quality for the most part), you are discouraged from working on pieces on the stage. The system says you shouldn’t step up unless you are convinced you are going to put on an A-1 effort. That discourages experimentation and invention. It discourages slam.

It also discourages you to slam when you know that there are top poets signed up. Since the system is completely built on placement and not individual performance, a poet is rewarded for slamming on nights when there is less talent on the stage and ‘punished’ when there are better.

(I know that there are plenty of poets who don’t care about things like this, but then the system used probably doesn’t concern them anyway.)

With all of these disadvantages, the one that really stands out for me, is the fact that you only are measured if you score in the top section of poets. (I believe in Van it is Top5, but this goes for any counting system.) The poets who do not finish in the Top5 are not recognized in any way other than a counter tick on the Number of Times Slammed list.

The system we use is called the Bytown Ranking Method, and is used at a number of slams in Ontario (and possibly elsewhere – I have had a number of slams ask me to explain it to them, but I can’t promise they have adopted it).

(Disclaimer: I am one of the creators of this method, so I am obviously biased)

I will start with the disadvantage, even before I explain the system, because it will become apparent.

It is kind of complicated.

It actually ISN’T that hard to do, but it SEEMS complicated and you can’t just look at the rankings and your new result and know immediately what the exact effect will be.

Here goes: after every slam, each poet will have two scores: their final placement and their single best score out of 30.

Each poet will get to use their three best placements and three best scores (from individual nights) in their seasonal rankings. They are added together (so a 1st, 3rd and 7th gives a ranking score of 11). They are then sorted ascending and poets are ranked so that the best season scores gets a rank of 1. The second best gets a 2 etc. We do the same with scores (but descending) and get a separate ranking. The two rankings are added together, ordered and BAM, you are done.

(There are some fiddly bits to ensure people who have slammed less than three times are ranked lower etc.)

So, clear disadvantage, right? Yeah, I get that. I just think the advantages WAY outweigh the complexity.

Advantage: It ENCOURAGES people to slam.

There is no maximum number of slams per poet. They get the score of their three best, so they can’t keep adding on more totals so there is no need for a cap.

Slamming more still HELPS, as you get your three best, so slamming a fourth will not hurt your totals, ever.

We grade both placement and score so there is no reason to try and ‘avoid’ top poets. It may be a little tougher to get the best placement, but a night with lots of great performers will tend to increase the base score, so if you are hurt in one area, you are helped in the other.

It gives an ACCURATE representation of the sometimes slight difference between results. A close second and a distant second are quite different things and are shown that way.

EVERY poet who slams shows up in the rankings. Every poet counts, not just the ones who sit at the top of the mountain.

Now, to me, these advantages outweigh the disadvantage by a lot, but to those who are still concerned about the delay in understanding your results, remember that the delay is only as long as the person who is handling the scores makes it.

I make a point of updating Capital Slam Results on the night of the slam, once I get home. If other people don’t, well, that isn’t the system. (And I am not criticizing those people… not everyone prioritizes things exactly the same way that I do… isn’t it grand?)

I will say that a friend has created a web-based program that would allow all of this pseudo-complicated stuff to turn into basic data entry. He made it so any slam that registered could enter the results and have it automatically recalculate your rankings for you, easy as pie. I just need someone who can design the front end and security and we would have a service available for every slam across the country that wanted to use it….

Any web-savvy folks out there want a project?