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.

ANGRY

 

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
Like a CARNIVOROUS PARASITE
KEPT FROM LAYING WASTE
TO THE COUNTRYSIDE
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…
Loud-talkers…
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,
ANYONE who wants to TELL ME WHAT TO DO.
Low slam scores, icy sidewalks,
Wind in my face or sun on my neck,
Skipping DVDs and no cel service,
The CULT OF THE ENTITLED
And ANYONE who EVER
VOTES CONSERVATIVE
As if having an opinion that
Differs from mine is a
Personal insult.
And DAMN IT
Keep me away from those
IDIOTS on the INTERNET
Who don’t know how SHORT
The SHELF-LIFE of a MEME
SHOULD BE!

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
Buddha.
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
Holding them UNDER THAT CALM BLUE OCEAN
UNTIL ANGER ABOUT ANGER
IS REPLACED BY SERENITY NOW!
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.

The One For My Dad

Posted: January 5, 2016 in Uncategorized

I just reached this poem in my book. I am not going to post it written out, because that doesn’t feel right. This video feels right.

I haven’t posted a poem in a while.

This one cakes from the Duncameron project I started a long while back and never really got anywhere with. This poem is one of the reasons.

I liked the first two poems I wrote. Then I didn’t really like the next two poems.

 

January, 2013

So, I play poker and sometimes luck feel tangible, either good or bad. This is in answer to that.

Breaks and Beats – The Duncameron 3

Some people get all the breaks
Cruising through life
With a personal Lady Luck
Complete with a 4-leaf clover
Parasol
And the feet of any number
OF much less lucky rabbits.
Morrissey said, “We hate it when
Our friends become successful.”
But I think our eyes go green
When we think success
Came too easy –
Like we would turn down
A magic ride a la 6/49
Or that lunch counter
Casting agent.

Some people take the deal,
Player ht stable,
Slide chips, stack and shuffle
But alway seem to eat that
2-out river card that takes
Your 8 to 1 odds and teaches
You what a bad beat really means.

When your life feels like it
Could be permanently emblazoned
With the ridiculous
#firstworldproblems
Which provides guilt
Instead of perspective
And taking ownership
Is a dead-weight feather
dropping on your already
Lightning-jagged spine
You have to remember that
Luck implies intent
And the universe
doesn’t care whether
You succeed or not.

We have to look out for
Each other,
Because that’s all
We’ve got.

This is the latest in the Rewriting the Rulebook project.

 

We have gone through all of the existing tournament rules as written, but there are other rules, incorporated through precedent and/or tradition that also affect the way the tournament is run.

 

Today I want to start off my talking about something that I know has a wide range of opinions and feelings associated with it.

 

The Wild Card team / Last Chance Slam. (It is named at the whims of the festival organizers at times.)

 

First, let me explain what I am talking about.

 

A slam is held on the first night of the festival where the top 4 (or 5) poets from the slam form a new team and it is entered alongside the other teams sent from individual slam scenes.

 

This has taken a variety of forms over the years.

 

The first time this was done was in 2008. There was an odd number of teams (11, I think) and an extra team was needed to even that up. A slam was held that was mostly filled with the alts from the various teams entered.

 

In 2009 it was held again. This time there were a number of top poets who had previously decided to not be on teams (with one notable exception, which I am not going into here), who decided to go out for the team. They made it to the Finals that year.

 

In 2010 there were 15 teams registered so a slam was held to create that team. This time there were so many people who wanted in, we held an advance lottery give spots in the event. (That has not been needed since.)
In 2012 there was a last minute slam created when one team that was expected to arrive did not. In 2015 there was a slam scheduled the day before most teams arrived, to make up the even number.

Some people love the Wild Card idea. Some people don’t.

 

Here is the current rules, previously unwritten: When all teams have registered, if there will be an odd number of teams a Last Chance Slam will be held to create a Wild Card team. Once formed, that team will be treated like any other team in the festival, with one exception. Any poems performed during the Last Chance Slam cannot be performed during the main competition that year.

That last rule was waived this year because nobody told the competitors that before they slammed.

 

Evening up the teams matters a lot. Scheduling an even with an odd number of teams means that at some point there needs to be prelim bouts that are a different size that others. That doesn’t create fair competition. The Wild Card team fixes that.

As I said earlier, some people love the Wild Card concept and think that we should include it every year. (There are various ideas about how to deal with the ‘odd number’ problem if the Wild Card team would CREATE an odd number.)

I am not one of those people.

 

I think of the Wild Card team as a fix to a problem, but not something that is desirable. I have always thought that the Wild Card team is a little unfair and quite a bit insulting to the poets on teams who had to work incredibly hard to get to where they are.

Let’s look at a ‘standard’ slam. At CapSlam, a poet has to have slammed at least 3 times during the season to qualify for our semi-finals. Then they need to compete against 7 other poets for the right to go to the finals. If they make it to the finals they compete against 7 other poets for the right to represent CapSlam at CFSW.

Once on the team those pets work together all summer, raising money and working on their poems as a team. This is five months of dedication before they have the opportunity to share their work with the National Community. This is a year of supporting the community they are representing. Coming out to shows and giving back to the community that is sponsoring them.

Or they can sign up for a Last Chance Slam, finish in the top 4 or 5 once, and skip the whole process.

That doesn’t sit well with me.

I remember IzREAL saying that we would see how many people still like the Wild Card idea if they win a championship. Some people still would, I am sure.

It does not sit well with me. At all.

So, my proposal is to take the current unwritten rule and put it in the actual rules, but otherwise don’t change it.

I know there will be other opinions about this one, so have at it.:)

This is the latest installment in the Rewriting the Rulebook Project.

 

There isn’t much to discuss here as we wrap up the remaining rules as written.  (Though there is some clean up needed, certainly.)

Please note that the two year moratorium on repeating poems was passed at an AGM, so would be tough to change at this point. (I mean, it could be changed, but not until next year.)

If you want to talk about it, please feel free!

o) Slam hosts will conduct themselves as neutrally as possible at all times during bouts.

p) Any disagreements, complaints or protests from a bout will be handled by the Slammaster. (The Slammaster may choose to strike a grievance committee at their discretion.)

 

  1. The National Slammaster will also enforce the following rules regarding the use of poetry from previous national team slam championship competitions:

a) No artist may perform a poem in the current competition that they used in previous national team slam championship competitions from the preceding two years at CFSW. This includes preliminary bouts, Semi-Finals and Finals but not Last Chance Slams, sacrificial poems, Underground Slams or any other side events. (Poems from Last Chance Slams are not allowed as part of the competition in the same year they are performed.)

b) Any disagreements, complaints or protests arising from the enforcement of these provisions will be handled by the Slammaster.

This brings us to the end of the current, written rules. I will be still making more posts as we go into the unwritten rules portion of the show.

Next up, I will open up discussion on the Wild Card / Last Chance team concept. It is an area that has a wide variety of opinions so it needs a good spot to discuss them.

What other rules topics that aren’t otherwise covered could use a section?