Lean On Me

Posted: September 6, 2016 in Uncategorized

Hey, poetry on my poetry blog!


Context: March, 2013


I used to sing. I actually used to do musical theatre with the PACE program. I was never a lead-type (not even close), but I was one of Joseph’s (he of the many-coloured coat) brothers, a townie in Anne’s (she of the green gables) PEI, an the Kansas farmer version of the Scarecrow (he of the Trump-like brain).

I was once asked to sing for a ‘better’ part (Gilbert Blythe) only to discover that my upper range was not all that ‘upper’.

Am I claiming to be a good singer? Not in the least. I wasn’t that good then (I was adequate to the task), and my talents have only diminished.

But I LIKE to sing.

I wrote this poem to tell a story… a series of stories, really… with a sung chorus.

I slammed it on CapSlam Finals in 2013. I think I have only performed once since then (at a fundraiser for DMP’s play).

I get the impression that this is a poem that I like more than anyone else does.🙂


Lean On Me

He tapped his fingers
On his desk,
Nervous energy flowing through him,
Vibrating up his legs
Like he was tap dancing
Past an earthquake.
The girl in the next row
Looked over, and he stopped,
Completely afraid of drawing
Attention to himself.
None of them knew him.
A hurricane trapped in a
Teenaged body, shaking as if
He was ready to explode
At any moment –
And he was.
The pills he had siphoned off
From his mother’s supply
Were his safety valve –
Counting them out, over an dover
Because if he didn’t have enough
He would keep living,
Trapped in a shell that was
Trapped in this world that was
Trapped in this life.
He looked at the girl in the next row.
She smiled.
Maybe those pills could wait
Another day.

That young girl said,
Lean on me
When you’re not strong
Because everyone
Needs someone to lean on.

She pushed her hands
Deeper in her pockets.
It was sold outside and
She had no gloves – just a
Heavy coat that once was as white
As the snow around her.
As the snow that used to
Make her eyes sparkle
As it fell outside her
Bedroom window.
Now it stings like the spot on
Her arm where he pushed his
It stung like the rumble
Of an empty stomach
That remembered her last meal
That came from
What we leave behind
And the one she did’ teat
Because the cost was too high.
She looked up at the poster
On the bus shelter wall
The cried Kid’s Help Phone.
She didn’t trust the word help
After every offer
Came attached to think strings.
She rejected offers of aid
Saying, “I already have enough.”
But there was a phone up the block
And it couldn’t hurt to call.

The voice on the phone said
Lean on me
When you’re not strong
Because everyone
Needs someone to lean on.

Each call hurt her a little more.
There was so much pain
And she sat as receptacle –
A misery sponge to soak it in
To ease another’s burden.
It was important work
And she knew she helped –
But not enough and not
Everyone. The weight pulled
Her down until all she
Could see in the world was dark.
She sat in her therapist’s
Waiting room until her name was called,
Grateful that the lister also
Had someone to talk to.

The therapist said,
Lean on me
When you’re not strong
Because everyone
Needs someone to lean on.

We are not islands –
Scattered across the sea –
Forced to bear the assault of
The environment with no support.
We are people surrounded by
Brothers an sisters who
Sometimes slip and fall,
But the greatest thing of all
Is the helping hand.
Never be afraid to ask for help
And never be afraid to give it.
The world seems heavy
But every load is lighter
When shared –
Even if in front of a
Crowd & microphone.
So ask if there is anything
You can do for each other
And say,
Lean on me
When you’re not strong
Because everyone
Needs someone to lean on.


How Did I Get Here?

Posted: July 24, 2016 in Uncategorized

Another ‘new’ poem.

(Not at all new, but ‘unreleased’.)


CONTEXT: February, 2013

I have a couple on the topic of fate, or divergent timelines, or whatever. This one has some inspiration from Komi Olaf, a former teammate of mine back when he went by Poetic Speed.

I considered this for the post-season that year, but I didn’t choose it and it stayed unperformed.


How Did I Get Here?

Three steps away from an
Emotional breakdown
And nothing to stop
My sideways momentum
With The Replacements
Playing ‘Unsatisfied’
Directly into my brain.
If I don’t believe in destiny
Why do these Temple of Doom
Mining cars wrap around me
As I hunker down in the bottom
Afraid I am going off the rails?
They say every journey
Starts with a single step
But each step starts a
New journey of
Arbitrary end points
As the road crumbles to dust
Behind you.
The road is only a road
Once you are on it.
And with the one behind
Fallen to ruin, one question
Spins into view
Like slot machine tumblers
Hiding cherries like you are
Fructose intolerant.
How did I get here?
What series of choices
Kicked over the domino pattern,
Scattering them, like a bull
In a china shop,
No matter how much care
Was taken to set them up.
I would like to see a
Giant tree diagram
Plotting out every decision made,
And every decision unmade
(And not making a decision
Is making a decision)
To find which path
Through leads to the optimal
Where do I end up the Poet Laureate,
Hall of Fame second baseman
Or the next Stephen Harper
(By position, not attitude),
But maybe this is the price you pay.
A crossroads bargain
To jump past the fray,
Trading soul for gold,
But doesn’t everything cost?
If I had the karmic roadmap
Where I could nudge that
Rolling car, right or left
To reach my desired endpoint,
Would I do so?
How far back do I go?
If a butterfly homicide
Can cause a hurricane
Can ever the perfect end
Counter the slipping means?
The times haven’t all been unkind
And as the turn of the century
Doesn’t mean what it once did
So can every change
Multiply to a consequential effect.
Does that peaceful line
Mean I never met
The peace in my heart?
And would taking those
Mean I never put a pen to
You can not pull one o the
Threads of fate in isolation
As every strand tied to
every other.
So if I am unsatisfied
With finding myself
Tapping keys and pushing papers
Surrounded all day by
People who define themselves
By a government classification number,
I need to listen to Komi Olaf
Who reminds me that
I am not a financial officer
For the federal government.
I am nto a business process modeller
Or a business analyst.
I am a fucking artist
And I give more with that
No matter what pays the bills.

So how did I get here?
Creativity, hard work and a
Willingness to share of myself,
And I wouldn’t trade that
For anything.

Another Tenth Anniversary

Posted: July 16, 2016 in Uncategorized

July 16th, 2006, exactly 10 years ago today, was the first time I stepped up to a microphone and performed one of my poems in public.

The show was Dusty Owl, put on by Steve and Cathy Zytveld as always, held at Swizzle’s.

By this point I had been to a few CapSlams and this was (I think) the second Dusty Owl I had been to. I had been writing since January and I knew that this was something I wanted to do.

I can’t recall which poem I performed but I guarantee it was pretty terrible. I didn’t REALLY get my footing until I wrote Why Art?, which was after I made the 2007 CapSlam team.

10 years. Most of it slamming. I stopped that about a year ago. I had a chance to slam again soon, but I realized that I am not ready… physically or emotionally. There is a reason I stepped down at CapSlam and I think anyone reading this knows what that reason is. Now I am tired.

I was going to go to the CPC SummerSlam tonight, in honour of this anniversary, and drop a poem – an early one… because I thought it would be fun. But I can’t. I am too tired and kind of sick.

Three more rounds of chemo.

So, this is a thanks to Steve and Cathy for Dusty Owl. This is a thanks to Danielle for accepting to me as a volunteer at CapSlam a couple of months later. This is a thanks to everyone who made the poetry community feel like home.

Wednesday is Sawdust. I guess a 10 year and 4 day anniversary can still count, hey?


Posted: July 12, 2016 in Uncategorized

I haven’t posted a poem here in a while and when I open my book, I have unposted poems back more than 3 years old.


Time for a ‘new’ one.


Context – Feb, 2013

Well, there is a reason this poem has never been performed or posted, I guess. It was an idea I had that came across as a little… begging for attention. I didn’t mean it that way, but there it is.

Not one of my better pieces, but I still like to lay it out there, winners and losers.



Let me tell you
What it means to me.
It is every win and trophy.
It is every cheer and slam team.
It is a way to live ‘pretend rich’
Like Sir Realist
Peeling off those dollar bills
And slapping them down.
Racing the rats
As the only score card
For success involves a
Dollar sign or Euros
But that’s a no go
As my life flow
Sticks the bank
On the down low.
I want cash,
But I need respect.

I don’t mean a street-smart
Like I’m true blue Wu-Tang.
I may look more like
31 flavours than 36 chambers
But I still
Ain’t nothin’ to fuck with.

I need respect
Like a fish needs oxygen –
Filtered out of everything around me.

This isn’t a Tony Soprano
Kiss the ring sort of thing
And it isn’t a call to
Respect your elders,
Even though some days
I feel three generations removed
From my poetic peers.

I don’t claim my words
Are worthy of paens of praise
To be exalted as great literature
And the books of the ages,
Thought if you want to
Flip through my pages,
Trapeze Artist is available at the back
For only $15.

Respect is what you give
When you don’t have to.
It isn’t a high slam score
(Though I’d be happy with those too)
It is the sincere expression of thanks
For all that you do.

Respect can’t be cashed in
For a drink at the bar
Or bartered on the
‘You give me yours
And I’ll give you mine’
Festival circuit.

Respect is reminding you
Why we raise it.
It is haring this
Really great Recipe
That rocks to the Nth Degree.
Respect is knowing your alphabet
From MCE to DMP,
From DG and V.
Respect is saying
That your work has value
No matter what monetary
Level is assigned.

It is given freely or not at all
And it means more than
Any fat stack of mad cash
No matter how tall.

The greatest gift
Anyone could ever hope to see
And it’s the reason
I can feel like a winner
No matter what
The coming scores
Will say about me.

Capital Slam and Me

Posted: May 22, 2016 in Uncategorized

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.

Angry (the poem)

Posted: May 8, 2016 in Uncategorized

I haven’t posted a poem on here in quite a while. The next one in my book (the oldest one I haven’t posted), is one that some people have heard but I haven’t performed it in a while.


Context – February, 2013

This one is interesting because the roots of the poem aren’t what it ended up being.

I was having some anger problems. I don’t mean anger management – I have never been that guy – just that I was finding that everything around me in the world had the potential to really piss me off. It was happening over and over.

So I wrote a poem. The problem is, as I was writing it, it kept coming out funny instead of mad. Basically, once I said out loud all the things that were tipping me over, it seemed ridiculous. So I went that was instead. I had fun.

I formed a different version of this as a team piece with V at the 2013 CFSW. We didn’t score as well as I hoped and THAT REALLY PISSED ME… just kidding. It was fun. We had fun.



A family friend once said
“It’s nice to see you happy.
I don’t think you were
Very happy growing up.”
The irony was that she was
Right about the latter
And wrong about the former
Which I suppose meant
I had grown better at
Hiding in plain sight
In order to fit in.

But I think I grew up
To value happiness
Like gold –
Though it was much more
Rare and precious.
It is like a priceless vase
Kept well protected behind
A thick vault door
In order to keep it from harm.
You know it is there
But you can’t bring it out to play
In case you slip
And lose it forever.

I am not unhappy.
I am not joyless.
I just hold my emotions tightly,
Rationing them out
In dribs and drabs
Afraid that if I give to much,
I will release the anger
That eats at my insides
Only by a thin eggshell skin,
Straining from the pressure.

It is an irrational anger.
It isn’t just anger at an unjust world,
That would be understandable.
I get angry at
Racists / sexists / homophobes, sure
But also the rude… line-jumpers…
Bus drivers, marketers, fast drivers,
Slow drivers, cyclists, pedestrians,
The middle class, MBAs and MMAs,
The over-confident and the
Perpetually later –
The unapologetically judgmental
And the unopinionated as well,
Low slam scores, icy sidewalks,
Wind in my face or sun on my neck,
Skipping DVDs and no cel service,
As if having an opinion that
Differs from mine is a
Personal insult.
Keep me away from those
Who don’t know how SHORT

All bottled up inside a shell
That, let’s face it,
Makes me angry,
A hundred pound overweight,
An overcompensated hairline
And a face nobody would
Mistake for good looking.
But mostly I get angry
About being angry.
I would like my brain
To match my body
Only in its similarity to
I try to count my blessings
But all THAT does is
Make me ANGRY about
What we VALUE in this world.

I don’t rant and rave
Because if I can do one thing
To make the world better
It is to not add to the
Chaos and violence
That make us all angry
So I bottle it up
And fight my inner demons
But if that doesn’t work
It’s really going to piss me off.


10 Years – Part 1

Posted: January 13, 2016 in Uncategorized

On January 13th, 2006 – 10 years ago today – my life changed.

I didn’t realize it at the time, which is how many major things happen, I suppose.

Less than a week before, Ruthanne told me she had read an article about a poetry show that she wanted to check out. A friend and co-worker (Nadine Thornhill) was also going to go.

I agreed to go. I had no specific interest in the show, but she was interested so I was willing.

The event was at a (now long gone) bar on Bank called the Gap of Dunloe. The show was called Capital Slam.

There was a good crowd but we got there early enough to get a table near the front. A lot of people buzzing about were ones I would get to know quite well, many of them as friends, but at the time, I had no idea.

I don’t know who was working the door, but it wasn’t Danielle Gregoire. It was the one show she missed in the first few years of the shows existence. Lisa Slater came by the table with white boards and Nadine quickly jumped at the chance to be a judge.

Then the poetry started.

I don’t remember the names of everyone I heard that night. I do know that the slam was won by Jim Thomas. Nathanael Larochette (later known as Sir Realist), made his slam debut. The feature was a young woman with a guitar… but I don’t recall her name. (The SECOND CapSlam I attended featured Magpie Ulysses.)

I DO remember being annoyed about something the host said on stage. It wasn’t anything important but it prompted me to write my first spoken word poem. (It was terrible, but hey, it led to a next one… and then a next one…)

On the way out we made a mental note to attend the next show we heard plugged on stage – it was a coffee house show hosted by Jessica Ruano and featured Kevin Matthews.

The other thing I did on the way out was pick up a copy of their CD – Live at Capital Slam 2005.

I listened to that CD a lot. I recognized the name Steve Sauve as the scorekeeper at that first show, and his 3-part poem on the album changed my perception of poetry. The Kevin Matthews pieces (The Love Song of Roy G. Biv and Bush Voter), made me want to be one of these amazing artists who opened their hearts, minds, and mouths and let beauty (even ugly beauty) pour out.

I wanted this in a way I hadn’t wanted something in quite some time. It wasn’t about winning or being a champion or any of that. I just wanted to create and share. This gave me an avenue of expression that I didn’t know existed before then.

So I started writing. And performing. And sharing. And I haven’t stopped.

Ten years.

And counting.