October Slamalaise

Posted: October 3, 2011 in Uncategorized

So the slam was on Saturday. It was a very good show. We got some surprises including a reunion of the 2008 Capital Slam Team (other than me) when Nathanael Larochette, Poetic Speed and Ibn Najeeb (formerly Marcus Jameel) joined OpenSecret for ‘Art Applied Alphabetically’ during his feature set.
Ibn Najeeb even slammed at Capital Slam for the first time since he won the seasonal championship back in 2008!

Solid show. 1. Ibn Najeeb, 2. Switch, 3. Just Jamaal, 4. Sean O’Gorman, 5. ArRay-of-Words

It was a little…bittersweet, however.

You know… I have done quite a bit with slam, without ever being one of the top TOP poets. I made the 2007 team in only my first year writing, performing and competing. In 2008, after the amazing talent of Ibn Najeeb, OpenSecret and Poetic Speed had joined Capital Slam, I still made the team as alternate. Taking part in that team was a lot of fun and it was great to see the rest of Canada’s slam scene taking note of CapSlam. In 2009 I came from behind to grab the alt spot again… in a night where I was one of the top performers, even over greats like Ian Keteku and Poetic Speed.

We won that year.
Being a part of that was amazing. Sitting in the audience with my team, running the numbers and then going up to face the crowd… well, that was one of the best moments of my poetry career… which also means one of the best moments of my life.

The Recipe was formed out of that team. I was a member for a while but… well, that is a story I have told here and there. It’s all good.

After skipping a year to act as Slam Master for the national festival, I am team alternate again… but this year I didn’t really earn it. I came 7th, not 5th. I got on the team after we allowed the alt (PrufRock) to go compete at Urban Legends. Then the sixth placed poet (Mack Cannon, now known as Cannon2X) also wanted to go do Urban Legends (I am happy to say that they both made the UL team – Pruf as their champ). That left me.

So, as Brad Morden said on stage on Saturday, I am on my fourth CapSlam team – more than anyone else. (OpenSecret has been on three teams… but all of them were performing positions and TWICE they won the National Championships.)

So… what? This hardly sounds like a reason to be down in the mouth, does it? I have had a pretty good run thus far, no?

Maybe… but I have been watching something change.

From 2006 to 2009, I rarely thought about ‘strategy’ when it came to my own poetry at slams. I thought about it when helping the team(s), but never on my own. I always just performed what I wanted to perform – bringing new stuff as much as I could.
This last year, that changed. I started ‘thinking smart’ and trying to plan out what I was going to do to get myself on the team. The results? The worst I have had since I started doing this.

Hmmm… obviously it was disappointing to me, but why did it happen? What had I missed?
I made a conscious decision over the summer to put that behind me and to go back to what I was doing before. Just perform my poetry and enjoy it.

I have slammed twice this season… I came 6th the first time and 7th the second.

I once went for nearly two straight years without ever not making the 2nd round.

So… am I complaining about the results? About my ‘bad luck with the draw’ or… I don’t know. Whatever.

I could see why you might think that, but it is not the case. What is really happening is that I feel that ‘my time’ might be done. It is rare in these parts that someone slams for as long as I have. Usually they cycle out into different things – maybe still poetry, but not as an active slammer. Why do I have the record for most CapSlam teams instead of Ikenna? Because he stopped slamming. I didn’t.

I have watched poets that I have GREAT respect for, suddenly stop doing well at slams. THEY didn’t get any worse, but the audience changed and what they wanted changed. They continued to be very talented poets, but slams stopped being what they were known for.

I think that is happening to me. I don’t think I am getting worse, but what the audience at the slam wants might not be me anymore.

That kind of makes me sad… I spent a lot of time tying my feelings of worth as a poet to my slam scores (a problem that is only exacerbated when people decided to use my blog as a place to talk about my shortcomings as a poet), and I KNOW that I shouldn’t do that… that I don’t NEED to do that.

None of this means I am going to stop slamming. I love being slam master. I love performing in front of the crowd. I love the rush.

I just have to try to stop caring when the scores aren’t… what I would hope for. I’ll just keep being happy when amazing new voices step up, even if that knocks me down another rung.

I feel like this is probably my last year on the team…

…but four times is pretty good. Maybe I’ll try to be happy about it later…

  1. Danielle Gregoire says:

    I can totally identify with this. 2007 being my top year in slam. I have always been around 6th…there was a progression, and then a plateau, and then a downward descent. You are a wonderful and talented poet…I think it’s time for your tour. I wish the Copper Conundrum could do it…but I’ve got other priorities right now. But I would say in a couple years we should definitely try something. Maybe a rural Canadian tour? You could always have a slam come back after a break…

    • rcw says:

      Congrats on all your accomplishments, Rusty. And always remember that being an alternate still means you are part of the team…the alternate rarely gets any of the glory but they are a key element to any teams success…especially in subtle and not so subtle ways.

      Trends come and go in slam and it’s best to just keep doing what you’re doing. If there’s something you see that someone else is doing to make you “up your game” then check it out, adapt and change…if not, enjoy who you are and what you do. What works for those others now might not be the case 2 or 3 years from now.

      And I agree with Danielle…the Copper Conundrum should go on the road and rock it.

      Slam is only one form of what we do. Many options await you.

      I look forward to seeing you and hanging out next week too.

      And I just have to say Cap Slam has more poets with nicknames/stage names that I have ever seen.

  2. jessicaruano says:

    Thanks for writing this. I’ve never personally enjoyed slamming; I don’t get the best scores, and I think the competition aspect gives me bad energy or something. I almost always regret having done it afterward. I much prefer playing the role of participant at a slam.

    But I’ve always enjoyed doing a ‘set’ or featuring at a poetry show. For some reason, that changes everything: I feel relaxed and confident and my performance is much better. People come up to me afterwards and talk to me about what I’ve written. Some have said they like it better than ‘slam’ as they understand it.

    I like what you said about the audiences changing rather than the poets. That makes a lot of sense to me and explains why certain poets that used to receive the highest scores (and are still very good, in my opinion) are no longer the most ‘popular’. There are a lot of factors involved, and I don’t think slam is suited to all spoken word poets at all stages in their careers. I think there is a difference.

    And for the record, I have found much of your poetry (and your writing in general) very touching, and I do hope you continue sharing your work for a long time.

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