Rusty & CFSW

Posted: October 19, 2011 in Uncategorized
Tags: ,

I have done some short blog posts about the Capital Slam team being at CFSW over at the other blog, but that is pretty formal… facts, not feelings.

As anyone who has been reading my blog or knows me is aware, I was the alternate for Team Ottawa this year. This was my fourth time on the team and my third time as alternate. I have been on teams across the spectrum. My first team finished last. My last team (before this year) finished first.

I will be brutally honest here (because that is what this blog is for). When the team this year was formed, I took a long look at it and decided it was pretty unlikely that Capital Slam would be taking home the third championship in a row. This is not a condemnation of the skills of these amazing poets, but rather and acknowledgment of the skill across the country and how HARD it is to win.
As the week at the festival wore on, my opinion changed. I started to believe… I mean REALLY believe. The work they put in and the way they were tearing through the prelims…
Then I saw the semi-final bout draw and thought we were a LOCK for the finals.

I was wrong.

I was wrong when I thought we couldn’t win and I was wrong when I thought we were a lock. Neither of those things were true.

The week


We had some problems with the rental agency. First I was told we couldn’t pick up the van until 8 when they actually opened at 7. We could have used that extra hour. Then (despite the reservation made weeks before) there was no van on site and we had to drive to a different location to get it.

This put us way behind our planned arrival time. We cruised in JUST in time and it was only due to Ruthanne and Chris Tse dropping us off and taking care of the hotel that it wasn’t more of a mess. The trip itself was fun. The team had done a lot of bonding and it really showed on this trip. Once again, CapSlam stopped feeling like a disparate group of poets and started to feel like a family.

The first bout included both Montreal (who had two bilingual poets) and Sherbrooke (who had four). The fact that the festival is becoming bilingual is fait accompli and I just have to deal with that. Every time I see judges put up marks judging content that they don’t understand I feel like it is an insult to all the poets involved (including the one being judged). Oh well. I think the large number of francophone poets in this bout really helped them as the judges were forced to deal with it. Montreal won the bout. (2. Sherbrooke, 3. Peterborough, 4. London)
The second bout really kicked things up as it included one of the pre-festival favourites (Up From the Roots) and the surprise newcomer from last year (Edmonton). In what was a shock to everyone present, Up From the Roots did not perform as strongly as expected. The Dwayne/Tomy team pieces (which seemed to be a GIVEN) did not materialize and they finished LAST, all but eliminating them from the competition (or so we thought…)
Edmonton won. (2. Saskatoon, 3. Kingston, 4. Up From the Roots)

We had checked out our bout draw and saw that we had one bout that looked INCREDIBLY tough, and one that seemed about average in intensity. Our goal then was to win the first one (the average one), so we weren’t FORCED to win the other one.

Oh… hip-hop karaoke. Bruce Narbaitz, Hey Ya. Epic.


I went to an interesting panel discussion about touring as a poet. It was hosted by Sherri-D Wilson and included Dwayne Morgan and Brendan McLeod. Informative, though rambling. There were some good nuggets in there.

The bouts that night were all over the place. Some teams were on their second bout while some were on their first, which makes an interesting dynamic.
I was at the first venue all the way through – Ruthanne was acting as Assistant Slam Master at the other venue all the way – and the rest of the team flipped from one to the other.
The 7pm bout that I saw included Saskatoon, who needed a second place to have any chance of moving on to the semis. The big threat in this bout was BeDRoCC from Vancouver, and that played out with them getting the win. Halifax pulled ahead of Saskatoon, though, and we had out first elimination of the festival. (Saskatoon is hosting CFSW next year…)
(1.BeDRoCC, 2. Halifax, 3T. Saskatoon, 3T. Calgary)

At the other venue, Urban Legends was DOMINATING. Word I got back is that they seemed like they were on a finals stage instead of their first prelim. After a strong showing on Tuesday, Sherbrooke did not do so well this time and were also eliminated from the running (this was their first year competing).
(1. Urban Legends, 2. Burlington, 3. Winnipeg, 4. Sherbrooke)

Capital Slam made our debut at 9pm. We had a plan laid out that involved adapting based on where we sat. We really wanted to win this one and it went off like clockwork. We got an early lead and never had to change up the basic plan. In retrospect, I wish we hadn’t used Bruce’s ‘Commodity Fetishism’ yet, as it would have been nice to have it for the semis, but hindsight is 20/20… (1. Capital Slam, 2. Vancouver, 3. Guelph, 4. Montreal) Montreal’s fourth combined with their first on Tuesday made it possible, but unlikely, that they would make the semis.

Sean O’Gorman was a superstar, by the way. He took his performance up to a whole new level on that stage.

At the other venue, London had to pull off a first to have ANY chance at moving on, but it was not to be. (1. Toronto Poetry Slam, 2. Victoria, 3. London, 4. Lanark County)


The SpoCan board meeting happened.

The short of it is that starting next year, poets are required to pay to join SpoCan and are required to be part of SpoCan to perform.

I am VERY opposed to this, yet that is not why I am angry.

I am angry because what I saw in that meeting was a systematic railroading of the rights of the membership. Their refusal to allow discussion and voting on amendments was irresponsible and undemocratic.

I LOVE CFSW, and will always support it, but what I saw at that meeting reminded my of the underhanded tactics I saw while with student government, years back. Even worse, they used the EXACT same tactics as Harper and his cronies forcing through the crime omnibus bill. You have a choice to vote for EVERYTHING, including items you do NOT agree with, or voting for NOTHING so that the entire year is a write-off. Despicable. People forcing through their own agendas because they are convinced they are ‘right’. It is arrogant and selfish. I think they should be ashamed.

This was pretty much the ONLY negative experience of the festival, so that’s good.

Back to the good stuff

We knew the bout on Thursday would be tough but after getting the win on Wednesday, we knew that even if we finished third we would be moving on.

We locked ourselves into our venue and arranged to exchange results with Sean McGarragle, who was at the other venue.
First came the 7pm bout where two heavy weights, Urban Legends and Edmonton, were set to battle it out. When we weren’t counting on was Guelph throwing everything they had out there. They needed a first to move on, and they were going to do everything they could to get it. In the end they just fell a little short. (1. Edmonton, 2. Guelph, 3. Urban Legends, 4. Halifax) Edmonton and Urban Legends were moving on and Guelph and Halifax were done for the year.

At the other venue there were a bunch of bubble teams that had to score well to move on. UP From the Roots needed a first for ANY chance while Vancouver and Burlington both needed AT LEAST a second. (1. Up From the Roots, 2. Burlington, 3. Vancouver, 4. Victoria) Burlington in. Up From the Roots maybe, Vancouver and Victoria out.
Then we were up.
We did the same thing again, having a base strategy and a back-up plan that we didn’t need. We didn’t run away with this one, but we were never in danger on not getting what we needed. The surprise was that it wasn’t BeDRoCC or TPS that threatened our spot, but Kingston. I will readily admit to underestimating them. Period. In the end, we tied for first. (1T. Capital Slam, 1T. Kingston, 3. BeDRoCC, 4. Toronto Poetry Slam) That meant Capital Slam, Kingston, BeDRoCC were all in while TPS was on the bubble with Up From the Roots and Montreal.

In the end it was Up From the Roots that moved on while TPS was the bubble team for the THIRD YEAR IN A ROW. Brutal.

In the other bout we had an interesting situation where three of the teams had received a third in their first bout while the other got a fourth. That meant it was VERY likely that we would have a surprise team in the semi-finals!

It was Calgary. 
(1. Calgary, 2. Winnipeg, 3. Lanark County, 4. Peterborough) The other three were eliminated.

The underground indies were that night and people loved them. Other people. I just found it too crowded and hot. The ‘gladiator circle’ was cramped and… well. As I said, I am in the very small minority.
Johnny Macrae won in a final against RC Weslowski and Ahmed Ali.


The AGM was Friday and was pretty much just an opportunity to talk about our local scenes. After putting forward a motion to allow the AGM to elect the board (downgraded to ‘recommend board elections’), the elections were never even addressed.

The night before I had gone over the list of semi-finalists (which, oddly, were not announced the night before. Strange…) and tried to figure out what draw I would like.

Who I came up with was:

Calgary: No insult meant to them, but they were as surprised as anyone when they moved on. They meant they were less likely to have killer pieces in reserve.

Kingston: Simply put, I underestimated them. Period.

Up From the Roots: My logic was that they would have had to burn their best pieces to get a first in their second bout when they had no reason to save them (since it was VERY unlikely that a 5 placement point team got in. In the end, only one did, and only because there were so many teams that had wildly fluctuating results – for example, NO team got a 1st and 2nd. Also there were two ties which changes the math.) I was wrong.

We got that EXACT draw.

We were feeling pretty confident.

However, as we discussed strategy, for the first time we weren’t all in agreement about what we should do. Our strategy was much less flexible that it had been in the past because of a couple things – we had a couple of poems that we thought HAD to wait to the finals, plus Bruce was losing his voice and one of the poems was going to be taxing on him.

It is through adversity that iron is forged… or something to that effect.

We also drew the bullet, which hurt. Sense-Say went up first and did That Type, Killer poem.

Time penalty.

He has NEVER had a time penalty before and CERTAINLY never had time problems in practice. I was PISSED… but not at him. I was convinced that the timekeeper had messed up. We started timing ourselves at that point.

We were in third after the first round. We needed at least second.

Sean O’Gorman went up next and… another time penalty. Once again, he had NEVER had one in practice. This time, however, we were timing it and it was legit.

We were still in third… by exactly 1 point. The amount of our combined penalties.

Third round we called an audible and sent a team piece up. “A Real Man”.

Time penalty.

In retrospect, I realize what likely happened. It was a BIG venue. I think that affected the team and how they dealt with the crowd. The reactions were louder and just caused small delays through the piece.

That is my guess anyway, because these pieces were TIGHT in practice.
After three rounds we had received 1.5 in time deductions… and were in third by less that that. Up From the Roots was running in first and Kingston was ahead of us by a little more than 1 point.

We called another audible and sent up Bruce and Loh El to do their ‘Don’t Stop Believing’ piece. Bruce’s throat was ratched but he powered through it like a champ.

No time penalty. Decent, but scores but probably not enough.

The only thing we could really hope for at this point was for Ritallin to crash and burn (which is not right to say, because we didn’t actually WANT him to crash and burn… you know what I am saying.)

Instead he did us a different favour. He KILLED it. He dominated the round and made it so we were eliminated by a little MORE than 1.5, so that the time penalties were not the reason we were out. That made the guys feel a little better.

After the bout was over I felt crushed.

It is hard to explain, but I was really starting to think they had a chance. I have stood on that stage, holding the trophy in the air, and I really wanted to share that with this team.

People all around me were congratulating Kingston, and they deserved it, but I just had to get out of there.

I went for a walk and ran into Komi. We talked briefly and then I went off by myself, just trying to pull myself together. When I came back inside I ran into Ruthanne who wouldn’t talk to me because she was trying not to cry herself. I then ran into John Akpata and he helped me a lot.

John: How’s it going?
I shrugged. He took one look at my face and said: No. Don’t you dare be disappointed in these guys.

I realized then they I HAD to pull it together. There was NO WAY I wanted anyone to think I was disappointed in them. I wasn’t AT ALL.

Then I saw them and they were all smiling, laughing and having a good time. They could deal with it. It was just me being selfish… or something.

I was disappointed that they were out but NEVER in them. They are my heroes. They are superstars. I love those guys.

Then Urban Legends was up. They were in against Edmonton, BeDRoCC and Burlington.

What I saw may have been the best bout I have ever witnessed. EVERY piece was amazing! In the end only two teams could move on, however, and Edmonton and Urban Legends were the two teams. I think that result was ‘correct’ but the other teams have NOTHING to regret. All four teams were amazing.

Oh, earlier that day was the ALT SLAM.

Here was my chance to strut my stuff.

Remember my last post where I said that I love to slam but I was no longer going to be so concerned about my scores? Here was my first test.

I came third, behind Patrick DeBelen and Sherry Huang. (Brad Morden came sixth).

In the first round I dropped Moving to Arizona. I was the only poet that did a piece that intense and I discovered that not everywhere is as political as Ottawa. I had a number of people ask me what law I was referring to. I have never had anyone in Ottawa do that.

I was sitting next to Ruthanne and when the scores came back she muttered “you were robbed” and I said, AND MEANT, “I don’t care. I got what I needed.”

The crowd loved it. They APPRECIATED it. THAT is what I needed.

In the second round I did Angst and the response was even MORE favourable and powerful. Lisa Slater tweeted it. I had people (including RC Weslowski and Clint ‘Father Goose’ Wilson) telling me it was their favourite poem of the festival.

RC told me that AFTER the festival.

What a great honour. At that point, who needs scores?

That night we went to a showcase with Brendan McLeod and C.R. Avery singing and doing poetry. Awesome. God damn, but I love C.R. We have plans to record something together but my inability to secure funding has really put me in a bind. I HAVE to get it together…

Also at the show they announced the results from the Poet’s Choice Awards.

I don’t think I have ever been prouder.

Honorable Mention (runner-up) for Most Valuable Poet: Sean O’Gorman.

Well deserved. Look out world, O’G is here!


We finally had board elections. I did not run for anything but one position interested me a great deal. A new position was created (at my suggestion) – National Slammaster. We have had some problems with tournament consistency in the past and this would fix that.

I think EVERYONE knew that there are basically three people who could do that job, and Charles Hamilton and I both backed Sean McGarragle. Almost immediately, Sean said that he considers we three to be a team, so that should be great. I already have some work lined up.

The finals were…

…how can I describe how exciting AND disappointing they were?

Edmonton won and they deserved it. They reminded us what it meant to perform POETRY. Urban Legends performed the best team piece I have EVER seen. Legendary. It was a game-changer. Kingston proved that they belonged on the finals stage and Up From the Roots came second… again. How many times is that?

Still, the problems with sound were very sad. There were poems you could barely understand… from poets who have no problems with speaking clearly.

I was also VERY unhappy that the festival chose to do put the merch out from the teams that were NOT competing that night. I know that my normal pattern (and after talking to others, I am not alone) is to not buy anything all week, and then once I have had everything settle in, go and browse the table to make my choices for the week.

I sold more merch AFTER I got it back, just because I had it under my arm.

(Speaking on which, I sold one copy of my book from the table, rather than directly from me – I would love to know who bought it! If you see this and bought my book from the table rather than directly from me, let me know who you are!)

Then to the after party… which I didn’t care for at all. Last night of the festival, spending time with people you may not see for another year, and they put it in a club where you couldn’t carry on a conversation.

Oh well. I guess I am just old.

So, all in all, a great time. Because I do these sorts of things, I put it in the middle for my personal experience with CFSW.

Back to work now.


Oh, but come out Saturday where Capital Slam welcomes its team back to Ottawa. Mercury Lounge. Doors and sign-up at 6:30.

  1. crazygrrrl says:

    What a ride. Thanks for posting this, Rusty, it was a pleasure to see the festival through your eyes – the highs and the lows.

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