Going into this year I had a plan to write 3 posts that celebrated the 10 years I have been doing spoken word and slam.
I wrote the 1st one on January 13th, the anniversary of the first show I attended (Capital Slam, of course).
I was going to write a second one on the anniversary of the first time I performed. (That one was at a Dusty Owl.)
Then I would write a 3rd one on the anniversary of the first time I slammed.
(And maybe one commemorating CFSW 2016 in Winnipeg, which will be my 10th CFSW.)
Of course, something happened after I wrote that first post. People who know me know the story, but it a nutshell, I had to have emergency surgery to remove my colon. It turns out I was diagnosed with Stage 3 cancer and am now in the midst of chemotherapy to deal with it.
That has been tough. I feel at least a little bit sick maybe half the time and I feel various levels of exhaustion virtually all the time. I had to miss a couple of shows when I was in the hospital and once I was out, it was a real grind putting in the work to get the shows together. In a way I was lucky that the semi-finals were cancelled, because it gave me a break.
Running a slam is work. Real work. When you are doing it for the love of doing it – which accounts for most of the past ten years of my life – you forget that part. It doesn’t feel like work.
But I grew to realize that I was not in a position to keep doing it. I have given a lot to the scene, emotionally. Now it was costing me physically and doing a half-assed job, doing the bare minimum… that is not how a show thrives.
So I knew I had to pass the torch.
I talked to some people to ensure that CapSlam would continue. As much as it had come to feel like ‘my’ show, that is not the way it was meant to be, including by me.
So last night was my official last show as Slam Master of Capital Slam. It was also the 2016 CapSlam Finals. It was a hell of a show.
I want to offer my congratulations to Jeff Gourgon, who won over the audience and took a well-deserved win, becoming the CapSlam Champ in his THIRD-EVER SLAM.
He has experience behind him, though, as all the rest of his team – DMP, Sarah Ruszala, Billie the Kid and D-Zaster – have competed at CFSW in the past.
But I also took a little time for myself. I looked over the crowd and saw – for the most part – people who had not been around for more than the last couple of years. (Except the MOTHER of one of my first teammates was there!) Because that is the way the Spoken Word Community works. It changes constantly and is always in flux. (I tried to figure out who was at my first National Festival in 2007 that is still involved in slam… we’ll just say it is a very short list.)
I wanted to perform a poem but all my new work is basically about cancer and I didn’t want to do that, so I pulled out Heaven. I have only performed it maybe 3 times before but it is the best at expressing what all of ‘this’ has meant to me.
I even managed to finish the poem without crying. Barely. (I understand that this was not true for certain other members of the audience.)
So now I become one of the many people who have taken the stage at CapSlam and moved on (my best estimate is that in the 10 years I was involved in CapSlam, between 3 and 4 hundred poets have signed up to slam or open mic with us). I know that for the most part that means being around less and less until you become a name that the crowd doesn’t recognize and tsopping in means a short visit with the couple of people who were still around from my days on stage. This is a normal progression in our community. I hope that this isn’t the case and I can keep lending my support and doing what I can… but for now, I am leaving for a reason. I need to take care of myself.
I want to express my thanks to some specific people over the 10 years I have been doing this.
In that time I have had 4 different Capital Poetry Collective Directors, starting with Danielle Gregoire. Danielle started as the person asking for volunteers back in 2006 and later became one of my closest friends. I am even a fairy godfather of her first child.
Nathanael Larochette was next. I also had the fortune of being on a couple of teams with him. Sir Realist was director through the CapSlam boom years and even running CFSW 2010 here in Ottawa. That festival wouldn’t have happened if he hadn’t stepped up when he did.
Brad Morden was director at the worst time. We faced some real struggles (and continue to do so) and he handled it all with class and professionalism. I really consider Brad a friend and while I don’t wish what we are going through on anyone, I am glad that if we have to face it, it is beside people I trust and respect.
Sarah Ruszala has been the director for the past year and she was handed a tough burden. A show that had lost its venue and whose numbers had dropped precipitously. The show clearly needed new blood and Sarah did a good job trying to give it that, while it never REALLY become something new because… well, I was still there. (More on that later.)
There have certainly been other very important people involved with CapSlam. We have had three ‘official’ volunteer coordinators in that time, starting with Ruthanne Edward (who I have had a ‘partnership’ with for a lot longer than 10 years), Kay’la Fraser, and our current superstar Jenica Shivkumar. Without them, and the various volunteers that they invited, coerced and wrangled over the years, there would have been no CapSlam. Straight up.
I also want to give a shout out to Madelaine Kelly. She has done a whole lot of behind-the-scenes work this year and never really gets credit because she isn’t a ‘take the stage’ type, like most of us.
So, now what for CapSlam? As said, I have spoken to a few people that have made me confident that the shows will be in good hands going forward. Officially elections for the Director and Slam Master positions will be at the CPC AGM on June 10th so I won’t name drop here. We are not a monarchy.
I WILL say that I spoke to someone that I think will be our new Director at the show last night and heard the best words I could hear. “I have some ideas to…”
Because there is a downside to me running things for so long. As dedicated as I was and as committed as I was to creating a space for poets to come and share ether work and share our community… it was still my vision of what the show should look like that whole time. Change is good. We constantly get fresh voices taking our stage but it is time for some fresh brains to take over the show. If the 2020 CapSlam looks like ‘Rusty’s CapSlam’, then it probably isn’t as great as it could be.
So, this has been long. Which is interesting considering how little I wanted to write this. Ever.
I thought I would be holding the clipboard and taking the stage at CapSlam forever. Life doesn’t work that way, unfortunately.
I will leave this off with these final words. CapSlam (and SpoCan… and UL… and OYPS… and LiPS… and VERSeFest… and… and… and…) have given me more than I can ever express. I love you all.
Now, go forth and write some poetry.