I try to write about the Slam Finals each year… what they meant to me. I wrote about them on Facebook, but that isn’t the same. It is too ephemeral.
I write here so I can look back, later, and remember. This is not a casual exercise, nor is it purely ego. I have gone so far as to consider writing a memoir, even though I realize that there is no reason for anyone to want to read it.
It is for me… so I don’t forget.
I have written about this before, but I have a fear of losing my memory. I have never felt like it was a strong aspect of my mind. I grew up considered very smart (even called ‘genius’ as part of one study), but I was never able to capitalize on it, because I couldn’t remember extensive facts and information. I did as well as I did because I was able to ‘work out’ the answers each time, rather than recall them. That is why I did well on ‘aptitude’ style tests. They rewarded that sort of thinking.
Anyway… back to the finals.
Leading up to the finals, I was having some problems. Anybody who knows me, knows the general challenges I (and others) are facing. Things are not getting worse on that front, but it started to get to me. I stopped being happy.
I am familiar with the signs of depression and I have dealt with it before, both in myself and with those I love, but this one – for me – was really bad.
I am already not an exceptionally social person, but for this I went into mental hibernation. I stopped wanting to do… anything (except for the OOTP baseball game I play, for some reason). It affected my life. It affected my work. (Ruthanne has been super-great and supportive. She recognized it for what it was and has done everything she can to give me both space and support.)
I kept going to CapSlam because, well, I had to. I run the shows. I never wanted to go, but I went… and generally ended up enjoying it. (I also kept going to my poker games, but that is a different sort of outlet. That group, while I consider them friends, they aren’t generally what I would consider CLOSE friends. I could go there and just play some cards and chat and not have to deal with everything else in my life. Escapism, really.)
But the CapSlam shows… hurt. People stopped coming. My FRIENDS stopped coming. The one part of the world that I saw as my oasis against the hardships of my world BECAME the hardships of my world. Every show reminded me that the love and support that I thought I had around me had all but evaporated when times got bad.
(Oddly enough, I ended up feeling a lot of support everywhere else… inversion.)
I decided to stop slamming. Not forever or anything, but just stop. I wasn’t writing anything good… or that I was willing to share. I wasn’t adding anything to the world and I wasn’t getting anything out of it.
Or so I thought, on both counts.
Then the season ended (which I won… despite ‘not slamming’. You see, I KEPT slamming because we needed to fill up the show… and I kept winning, because I was doing poems that I was really comfortable with rather than trying to do anything new). But I declined a spot in the semi-finals.
Two things happened. One – a handful of people started really encouraging me to put my name back in. I wasn’t sure I wanted to but I will admit, it felt good knowing that there were people who CARED if I was in the mix or not. Two – we had a lot of people decline. This is not all bad stuff… we had people with very good reasons who just couldn’t do it… so we kept going deeper and deeper into the list. We were still going to have very good poets… but I started to worry if the semis would be FULL.
So I added my name back in.
But I also said to myself, if I am going to do this, I am doing it to win. I wanted my name on that belt.
But, on the other hand, I hadn’t been writing… not really. A poem here and there but nothing that was going to put me over the top. Also, I find myself incapable of writing FOR an event like this. It is disingenuous. I can’t write for the scores. I need to just write and then CHOOSE poems based on what will get me where I want to go.
So, what to do for finals?
I sent Ikenna a message. He helped me choose my poems the last couple of years and is a great sounding board. I told him my plan was to do ‘Angst’ in the first round (come out with a BIG poem), ‘The Stranger’ in round two (I think it is my best all-around poem for slam – it has a message I believe in and some really strong poetics to go with it), and do ‘Heaven’ in round three (telling the crowd what I feel about the scene and space we were in). But I also knew that the latter doesn’t always resonate, do I decided to prep ‘Conspiracy of Shame’ in case I needed a bigger scoring final round poem.
This was a stupid, stupid idea. I can’t do that poem like that. I just can’t.
Ikenna told me right away that I should just do ‘Conspiracy’. He was right.
So I started prepping.
I had to get through semi-finals first and call me over-confident or whatever, but I wasn’t that worried about it. Honestly, if I just threw up a couple of poems and DIDN’T make finals, that wouldn’t have broken my heart either. I was originally planning on not performing anyway.
I did ‘Day One’ and ‘Why Art?’. It went… fine. I finished third behind Nina Vuleta and Sarah Ruszala… a couple of talented young poets.
Then I started practicing for finals.
A little about ‘Conspiracy’. Obviously this is a hard poem for me. Before finals I had performed it three times in six years.
I practiced it… while I was already feeling the edges of depression.
Then it wasn’t the edges anymore. It was bad. It was dark.
The day before finals I actually broke down in tears… for nothing. And everything. I saw nothing good in the world.
I was no longer trying to get my name on the belt. I just wanted to get through this. I wanted it to be over. The finals were just another burden weighing me down.
I got through the day Saturday… barely. Ruthanne propped me up and got me to the show and then took care of everything else while I sat in the back and tried to keep from collapsing in on myself. I tried to be friendly and upbeat with the people around me, but failed miserably.
I am sure people just thought I was nervous.
Then came the slam and I was the first name drawn… for the second year in a row.
Back before I started practicing ‘Conspiracy’, I had a plan to switch Angst to the first round if I drew to early. Conspiracy of Shame is not the kind of poem that gets people excited to kick off a show.
By the time I got there, there was no way I could do that. I couldn’t perform another poem without getting this one out first. I was barely holding it together and the only way to deal with it was to do that poem.
So I did. I almost started crying on stage and I could hear my voice wavering and cracking.
I got off the stage and went straight to the back hallway to pull myself together.
I felt like the crowd was with me… but it was also a lot to dump on them first thing. The emotional impact was not insignificant. (Afterwards I had two different people telling me I had them in tears. While that is not the POINT, at least I know that people are HEARING what I am saying.)
Then the scores came. They were not good.
So I thought.
Score creep was going to end any chance I had to get my name on the belt… but I was okay with that.
As it turns out… I was wrong. The judges actually stayed pretty even-handed through the round. I had the top mark until the final two poets (Billie the Kid and Nina Vuleta). I finished the round in third.
I knew that was it as far as the championship went, but I also started to notice that a very nice show and night were unfolding.
Then came round two. I was ready with The Stranger.
Last year I drew first in round one, second in round two, and first in round three.
I think I expected that again.
It didn’t happen. I drew second to last in round two. The Stranger was very well received and I got the second highest mark in the round, behind DMP. (Daniel had not scored well with his first poem but bounced back in round two.)
I wasn’t keeping score but I figured that Nina was probably in first, but not by a huge amount (her second round hadn’t gone quite as well for her… but not badly either), and then it was likely myself, Billie and King Kimbit in a bunch and then Daniel (having passed Brad in round two).
By this point I was cheering for Nina.
I drew first in round three and did Angst. All the bottled up energy, which had been driven into my dark places, exploded out in this poem. That means the big ending, which I had planned to do it a much more… understated manner… came up really big. Loud.
And it absolutely worked.
I scored very well (second highest in the round again)but then Nina went up to finish off the round and started her Binary poem. I knew how good it was… and on that night, she was even better. She got the highest score of the night and it was well deserved. She won, and by a decent amount.
I came second. This was my highest finish at a CapSlam finals. I had been on six teams before that but they were all fourths and fifths (and one seventh that ended up on the team anyway).
I found myself standing on stage grinning, which is something I wouldn’t even have been able to fake earlier in the day. Nina completely deserved to win and in the process became the first female CapSlam Champ (and the youngest… by a lot).
Am I going to claim there isn’t any disappointment? No. Sure it would be great to be able to add CapSlam Champ to my artistic achievements, but it was not to be. Now I am going off to CFSW on my seventh team in nine years (and one of those years, I didn’t compete). With my four new teammates I have now had the honour of working with 23 different people on CapSlam teams.
And I feel like I have nothing personal to prove or accomplish at the festival. So, I am going to do the work so that I can help the other members of my team, get that same feeling. Let’s go to Saskatoon and show the national community what you’ve got so we can add some more names to the list of great poets who are remembered for their work there.
Yeah. That works for me. One day (maybe one day very soon), I will transition to just coaching teams, but for now, I’ll do that coaching from the ‘inside’ and get to work with yet another group of talented poets and hopefully friends.
And that is why I do this.