SpoCan – Ottawa Board Rep Report

Posted: March 27, 2012 in Uncategorized
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This is going to become a recurring (though likely irregular) feature on this blog.

I am one of the two Ottawa representatives on the Spoken Word Canada (SpoCan) board. The other is Sergio Guerra (aka Hyfidelik).

We are supposed to represent the spoken word community of Ottawa at SpoCan, but it often feels like a one-way flow of information. In other words, I report on what is happening in Ottawa to SpoCan, but never report on what is happening in SpoCan to Ottawa.

So… if you are a spoken word artist in Ottawa (whether you slam or not) this is for you. If you are from a different community, feel free to read this but also talk to your own community representative, who may have a different perspective than I do about what has gone down. Get and stay informed.

This is going to be a long one, because I haven’t done these before and I need to get caught up. There is important info in here, though, so if you don’t want to read it all and just want the current stuff, you can skip past the historical stuff and jump in at the 2011 section.

2007

My first Canadian Festival of Spoken Word, and therefore my first SpoCan meeting, came in Halifax in 2007. The SpoCan reps at the time were Danielle K.L. Gregoire and Elissa Molino. At that meeting Elissa was removed (as she was no longer active in the scene) and replaced by Nathanael Larochette.
My input was negligible as I was only there as an interested party.
The SpoCan Director at the time was Greg Frankson, who was (at that time) based in Ottawa and who (forever) is one of the founders of Capital Slam. I remember he took some heat at that meeting. I also know that he ended up resigning before the next festival (though he later became an integral part of the executive board).
In an attempt to give more lead-time for future festivals, both the 2008 and 2009 festival locations were approved. Calgary in 2008 and Victoria in 2009.

2008

At the Canadian Festival of Spoken Word in Calgary in 2008, I replaced Danielle as one of the Ottawa reps. She had moved to Lanark County and founded a slam scene out there. (Lanark County joined SpoCan in 2008).
There were some disagreements about a number of things that year, like whether underage poets should be allowed to compete at CFSW. I remember speaking out strongly that they should continue to be allowed to do so. Ottawa has always had a strong tradition of youth poets, with people like DJ Morales and Free Will being on various teams. In 2008 we accompanied the Lanark County team that included Emily Kwissa (at the time the youngest poet to compete in the event. That record has since been broken… by Lanark County.)
Reed Jones (aka IzReal) of Halifax, was elected to be the new SpoCan Director. Montreal was tentatively approved as host for CFSW 2010. This was later ratified via e-mail.

2009

The festival was in Victoria and the only really important thing that I can recall from the board meeting was the discussion about allowing the new Ottawa slam series Urban Legends to send a team to the festival. Ian Keteku was there to speak on their behalf and the two of us successfully lobbied for the inclusion of Urban Legends. The board agreed to include them for one year, on a trial basis… but nobody has since asked them to stop coming. Our argument was that Urban Legends caters to a different audience than Capital Slam does. Which it does. Many of the poets are the same, but the ability to reach out to a community that felt excluded from slam due to Capital Slam being held in a bar (though it is still all-ages) is very important to us. We also removed Nathanael as a SpoCan rep and replaced him with Ibn Najeeb (aka Marcus Jameel). While Nathanael was still active in the community, we felt it was important to have a rep from both Capital Slam and Urban Legends, rather than having both from CapSlam.
Right before the festival it was made clear that Montreal did not feel like they were going to be able to host the festival in 2010. Ottawa was approved as the new host. The two-year lead did not happen, as this changed timetables somewhat.

2010

A lot happened that kept SpoCan very active through this season.
First, as a measure of full disclosure since I am an Ottawa rep, one of those things involved me quite strongly. I found myself in a very visible disagreement with Sherri-D Wilson, of Calgary. This disagreement ended with Sherri-D resigning from the board. It also included Reed Jones, the SpoCan chair, stepping in to try and mediate things. I am happy to say that as if now this has been patched up and the rift no longer exists.
A much more serious incident also occurred.
A poet from one city managed to act in a manner to a poet from another city that induced the second poet to claim harassment. (While using such oblique terms may cause some confusion. I do not want to bring the names of the poets back into this by bringing up a dead issue. I just want to talk about the SpoCan involvement.)
I can say that I was witness to the exchange, and I stood on the side of the second poet. The words offered and the method they were conveyed were completely unacceptable.
SpoCan chose (at first) to do nothing. If this sounds damning, it is not meant to be. I am honestly not sure what they SHOULD have done. However, this inaction led two competing poets and one featured poet to choose to boycott the festival.
At the meetings themselves, the board chose to make a statement that the actions that instigated this mess were unacceptable but no action would be taken against the poet. Again, while it seems damning, it was a tough situation. Nobody liked it but we weren’t clear what even COULD be done. In the end, even if the actions were insufficient (which they were), I can honestly say that there are a whole lot of poetry organizers in the country that are more aware of the problems that a few words can cause.
One of the problems that SpoCan had coming into the festival was that the chair (rightly) removed himself from the issue due to a conflict of interest and nobody stepped in until the festival itself.
At the festival we elected a new Director, Elyse Maltin of London (now Toronto).
Toronto was approved as the site for CFSW 2011 and Saskatoon was approved as the site for CFSW 2012.
Soon AFTER the festival, Ibn Najeeb announced he was stepping down as an Ottawa rep. He was replaced by Sergio Guerra (aka Hyfidelik).

2011

This is where things get a little messy. (Yes, there was some mess in 2010, but it was mostly self-contained.)
I’ll start with a few statements that seem benign but will come back to cause problems later.
At the 2010 festival, Yehuda Fisher of Toronto called a meeting of all interested parties to discuss the inclusion of a youth slam at CFSW 2011. Greg Frankson and Danielle Gregoire had recently started the Ottawa Youth Poetry Slam so they attended. What came out of that meeting was that there WOULD be a slam. There was a lot of interest and it would happen.
From Ottawa’s perspective, Greg was handling the youth ‘stuff’. We always knew a youth team was going and acted accordingly. Apparently it was not so clear elsewhere. It seems that the youth organizers in other cities were waiting for a more firm announcement from the CFSW organizers in Toronto. That announcement did not come until August, when the festival was in October. Thus there were teams who felt that was too short notice and they declined the invitation.

Switching gears here, there was another important thing that happened in the lead up to the festival. The SpoCan Executive presented the rest of the SpoCan reps with a proposed new model to run the organization. In my view it was fatally flawed. The basic issue was philosophical as the assumption was made by the Executive that the organizations needed to become more corporate (my word, not theirs). They were working under the assumption that SpoCan was going to need to have permanent offices and staff.
Keep in mind that this organization has ALWAYS been volunteer up to this point.
Now, I am not saying it can’t become what they saw as their vision, but rather my issue was that it was just assumed, without the body of the organization saying that is what we wanted.
It gets worse, though.
In order to achieve this goal, the new model included mandatory fees for every scene and every poet who participates in CFSW. A couple of us (Beth Schilling of Lanark County and myself… though I am sure there were others) jumped all over this. In the end we asked what SpoCan was providing in exchange for these fees. There was no answer forthcoming.
The Executive withdrew the motion for this new model and said it would be addressed at the festival.
I asked around and the general feeling that poets would have to pay to go to the festival was considered ludicrous. It hadn’t been long since poets were PAID to go. What a long way travelled in such a short timeframe. It seemed pretty clear that there was no way this would pass. What self-respecting rep would agree to force the poets to pay in exchange for nothing?

The festival came, as it always does. The youth slam happened and one of the teams (Ottawa, as it turned out) was announced from stage as the first ever National Youth Slam Champions. Switch was announced as the first ever National Youth Individual Slam Champion. This announcement was repeated at multiple points during the festival.

At the SpoCan board meeting, the proposed model was again put on the table. This time they had come up with a list of things that SpoCan provided for the money. The list was vague and incredibly non-concrete. Literally the only specific thing I recall from the list is that there would be a permanent forum created.
There was a lot of good things in the new model, including the creation of a National Slam Master position.
A motion to approve the model was tabled. I made a motion to amend the model to remove individual fees (leaving the team fee). To me this was a pretty reasonable request. The motion to amend would allow us to discuss and debate JUST THAT SECTION and then decide whether we agreed with it without having to kill or pass the whole motion.
At the prompting by the Executive members present, I was ruled out of order by the chair, Sean McGarragle. It was ruled that would be a fundamental change to the motion so it could not go forward.
Look, I have a lot of respect for Sean McGarragle. I consider him a friend and I supported him for the National Slam Master position later but he was just wrong here. In my opinion he let himself be influenced by those on the Executive (Elyse Maltin, Allisandra Naccaratto and Greg Frankson) who were vocally pushing this. By making that motion he took the control away from the people who represent the poets and gave it to the people who are trying to mold the organization the way they want it.
I also like and respect Elyse, Allisandra and Greg, but what happened in that meeting was not just. It was not right. It was not ethical.
Once my motion was ridiculously called out of order (and I made it clear that I thought it was unjust), Kevan Cameron made a different motion to amend. It was also ruled out of order. It became clear that we were being railroaded into making the decision they wanted.
Has anyone heard about the Omnibus Crime Bill that the conservatives were pushing through at the time? They lumped a whole lot of stuff together and made it so the M.P.s were not able to vote for the items that they agreed with and against those they disagreed with. They were forced to either vote yes, and hold their noses against the unpalatable parts of the bill or vote no and realize that there has now been no successful reform and everyone’s time has been wasted for nothing.
In fact, one of the executive even said that during the debate. She said that if we voted against the model, everything the board had done for the past year would be for nothing.
Is anyone proud that the SpoCan Executive used the same tactics as Harper’s Conservatives? I’m sure not.
In the end, the vote passed. The only no vote was mine (though afterwards Sergio apologized for not standing with me. He had actually missed the vote as the weight of the meeting was getting to him), despite many people speaking against the fees. It seems that they had to weigh the good and the bad or something. I do not presume to read their minds.
I walked out of that meeting feeling that the Executive should be ashamed of what they had perpetrated in the guise of democracy.

The festival ended.
After the festival, the Ottawa Youth Poetry Team were quite rightly happy about their win. They were told quite suddenly that there had been complaints and that they had to stop calling themselves the National Champions. They were told that the event was NOT a national championship despite being told that it was on multiple occasions by the people running the event.
I told the team to ignore them and to continue to claim what was their right.
It turns out that the teams that were not given sufficient notice considered it unfair that a team was named champion. Look, I feel for those poets. It is really lousy that they were not given enough notice to come. That was a failing of the festival committee. Deciding that it means it was no longer a national championship is a failing of SpoCan. It is the latest of many bad calls.
I have said before and I will say again. We know who the champs are.
Also after the festival, SpoCan had some more problems, but I am not as critical of them about their handling of it.
Since the existence of the festival, a member of the winning team has gone to the World Poetry Slam in Paris. Both Ian Keteku and Chris Tse have attended on behalf of Ottawa. This year, after Edmonton won at the festival, everyone believed that Mary Pinkoski would represent Canada.
This year, however, saw the first Vancouver International Poetry Festival which hosted the first Canadian Individual Slam Championship. The organizers in Paris invited the winner of that instead.
What happened after that was an absolute mess, but it was a mess that was pretty much unavoidable. What we were all forgetting is that this so-called World Championship was just a big invitational slam, and they could invite whoever they wanted to invite. SpoCan had no say whatsoever… but we all thought they did.
That whole thing was crappy but not another indictment against SpoCan itself.

2012

Both the issue of fees and the youth slam have raised their heads again. It turns out there is going to be no youth slam at CFSW this year. That is very disappointing because we have poets who have been working towards that goal, hoping to make the Ottawa team. There will be a showcase slam instead. No teams.
The problem came when it was announced as the organizer (Greg Frankson, founder of both Capital Slam and the Ottawa Youth Poetry Slam) decided to use the opportunity to call out the Ottawa Youth for calling themselves champions. He even bolded the sentence to make sure it stood out.
I think that speaks for itself.

As for the fees, there was supposed to be a bursary form available by now so teams could apply to have their fees reduced based on need. The form was late, but that sort of thing happens. When the form was presented to the board for approval I voted no, without ever looking at it. I explained why, so there was no misunderstanding.
There has not been a fair vote on the matter of fees. Until there is one, I will vote against every measure that is connected in any way to fees. I am not opposed to a bursary, but voting to pass it is tacit support for the fees period, in my opinion.
If we have a vote on the fees, pass or fail, I will drop my protest.
The reaction to this statement included someone who wanted more information, someone who took up the fight (Beth Schilling again) and a couple who used the opportunity to defend their actions at the last festival. They stated that omnibus bills are legal.
I stand by my statement from earlier.

It was not just.

It was not right.

It was not ethical.

So that is where we are. Hopefully the next time I post one of these reports it will be because SpoCan has done something FOR the community instead. In the meantime, I am YOUR rep if you are a spoken word poet in Ottawa so if there is something you want me to address, let me know!

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Comments
  1. Rusty,
    Just read your post. Couple of things that may be confusing for some that I can rectify. Reed Jones aka IZRAEL was National Director (not the chair of Spocan) and I thought he was replaced in Victoria not Ottawa because I know he didn’t end up coming to Victoria, but I could be wrong.

    The distinction being that I’ve always thought of was that the National Director is the employee of the board (much like the tournament director) and the Chair runs the meetings and tries to facilitate everyone’s needs on the board, or at least creates a space where they can speak and be heard. If we want the National Director to spend their time knitting tiny Spocan sweaters or looking into funding oppourtunities, then that is what they do. I was under the impression that I was the chair for Spocan for 4 years, which ended in Toronto.

    To be honest, I don’t have a ton of recall about that meeting—it may have been the one I had to leave early, I’m not sure—because of my father’s situation. That was the festival out of the last 6 years that I spent the least amount of time in, funny in retrospect given that Toronto is the city I was born in and go back to a couple of times every year.

    I would say a couple of things though.

    1)Anybody can be on the exec or have either of the non voting positions. As leaders in the national community, we choose who we want to do the work and what kind of work we want them to do. By my count, we have 41 members of Spocan that have voting rights. If the majority of folks are unhappy with anything, ANYTHING at all then they should be able to vote in something better or vote down something they don’t like.

    2)You’re spot on about Omnibus bills. And the person who said that about the bill was also correct. If the bill/bylaw change/ etc. was voted down then all of their work would have been for not. Such is life with big bills. I still think it would have been easier to break it down and discuss and vote on the sections separately but that’s not what the purveyor of the bill wanted. Its legal but I’m not a fan of omnibus anything.

    3)Currently, we have one meeting a year in person (a shame I think but understandable given the lack of financial resources we currently have collectively and individually). If the majority of Spocan reps want to throw away the membership model, then we will. I would encourage you to speak to the other board members and see what they think. If change is warranted then that is what should happen.

    4)The Youth Slam Stuff. I’m assuming that some don’t wish to call Ottawa’s Youth Slam team the champs because not all the youth slams were present or because they want to brand a new event as the National Youth Slam and have the first one of them produce the first champ. The way I look at it, were cities invited? Yes. Did Ottawa win? Yes.

    That being the case, the original WordLympics, produced two indy champs (Drek Da and Brendan MaCleod). In my eyes they were the first Individual Champs or for that matter the first poetry slam champs we ever had (because indies came before team finals I think). Yes Koyczan had won indies in the states and the event that Drek and Brendan won technically doesn`t exist anymore, but they were the first and the elders in the community will remember that, as will the elders who will remember that Ottawa won the first youth championship. As you said, it was mentioned at the festival and all the future elders will remember that youth team as such.

    I have chosen to brand the upcoming CIPS in Vancouver as the second annual because it is a lot easier than trying to explain how two people won the original indie tournament in Ottawa back almost a decade ago, when it was run under a technically libelous title (that I don’t reall like bringing up), with a different tournament model. I don’t think it takes away anything from what Drek and Brendan did. Much in the same way I hope it doesn’t take away from what any of the Ottawa youth team have done.

    Lastly, I want to apologize if I infringed on your rights or Kevan’s during that board meeting. Again, I was under the impression that if an amendment to the bill changed it to the point where it became vastly different from the original idea (in the opinion of the person suggesting the bill in the first place) then they were within there rights to say, no, if that amendment goes through then I withdraw my initial proposal. I thought that was what was going on. Again, if it was not the case, my humblest apologizes brother.

    Thankfully, I won’t have to chair any more meetings and can just get back to running shows and tournaments, which is what I enjoy most. The politics of poetry has never been my interest. Politics in poems…that’s another story.

    I hope you’re well brother,

    Sean

    • rpriske says:

      Calling Reed the chair was an error. He was definitely the Director and you have been the Chair forever (until this past year). 🙂 I could also be off about when we switched from Reed to ELyse, but I don’t THINK so, because it was Reed who stepped between Sherri-D and I when thinks got squirrelly, and that was definitely AFTER Victoria.

      I have no gripe with you, Sean. I disagree with the ruling you made, but we are not some big collective hive mind who agree about everything. 🙂

  2. Tammy MacKenzie says:

    Good post Rusty, and far more objective than some I have heard. 😉
    Here in Lanark County, our SpoCan board rep(s) fill us in and we discuss it and give our collective opinion.
    I would be curious to see the response of the entire poetic community that participates (aka the actual people who embody the SpoCan community/membership), were they to know all the details of these issues, and an appropriate time and manner to discuss and vote on them.
    I know for us it means asking some hard questions, which may result in some difficult decisions.

  3. ritallin says:

    Rusty, I love you and the note below is a reflection a long relationship where I feel we can be honest and open with each other. But your portrayal of me in this blog post is inaccurate and violent against my person and my reputation as a poetry organizer.

    I have NEVER called out the youth involved with the slam in Ottawa for ANYTHING. The simple truth of the matter, once again (and now for the benefit of those who read this and think I’m being a prick against young people in Ottawa) is that the Spoken Word Canada Board of Directors never created the Youth Slam Showcase as a national championship. The event organizer was told, in advance, that the event was not to be seen in that way. He chose to ignore that instruction and spread the unfortunate misinformation that has led to months of unnecessary bickering.

    Frankly, I’m tired of talking about it. But you won’t let it rest. So I am calling YOU out.

    The Ottawa Youth Slam Team won the CSFW 2011 Youth Slam Showcase, convincingly and with a poetic display that will be talked about for many years to come. It is a fact. I am extremely proud of them for doing so. Unless you’ve forgotten, the reason why they were able to be part of the festival at all was because of a year and a half of work I poured into the Ottawa youth slam community along with the countless hours put in by other poets, parents and teachers who support the project from its inception. The fact that you continue to dismiss those efforts and demonize me for being the messenger on this issue is offensive to me. I am not SpoCan. I am just the guy who had to let everyone know that this was a horrible, unfortunate mistake. Just because the win is not considered a national championship IN NO WAY diminishes the accomplishment. It simply places it in its proper context. The fact that YOU keep screaming loudly anytime it is raised is what I think is causing more damage and causing more problems that don’t need to be created. Please stop accusing me of being some kind of political scumbag out to screw over the youth of Canada. You do them a great disservice and I am asking, for the final time, for you to stop impugning my name in this way. At this point, it is your incendiary words, unnecessary provocations and inability to conduct yourself civilly in word and deed that is the problem.

    As for this year’s CFSW youth slam showcase, the question of what kind of slam should be held this year was put to the national community. The answer we got back was for either a showcase with 2-4 poets invited from different parts of the country or for an individual slam. I’m sorry you don’t like it. I don’t much like it either. I would have preferred a team slam too. But this is a system where we ask people what they want and then respond to what they say. Instead of focusing the benefit of participation to a small handful of youth, we opted for the individual showcase slam. I’m sorry you don’t like it, but SpoCan, YouthCanSlam and the CFSW 2012 FOC are responding to the community as a whole and not just to you.

    As for the SpoCan meetings, I was not a lead proponent of the membership model. It was being presented by Alessandra and Elyse. I was in favour of the model but my main role was to interpret whether or not the policy, procedures and guiding documents of SpoCan were being followed. In that context, I judged that trying to hive out the fees from a membership model based intrinsically on creating a fee structure fundamentally changed the purpose of the motion. That’s why I advised that it was out of order. The whole point behind Alessandra and Elyse’s motion was to transform the organization so that fees make sense. You can argue about whether or not the model actually does that — having that debate was the reason the motion was presented in the first place. But if you thought fees did not make sense, it was then your job to vote against the motion to record your opinion that the Executive should go back to the drawing board. That’s what you did, Rusty, as was your right and your responsibility. The majority of people in the room, however, went with the Executive on this matter. I personally felt the motion could have been introduced differently, and that the aftermath should have been handled better. But it wasn’t my motion and I’m no longer on the Executive. Take it up with them if you’re not happy, and leave me out of it.

    In conclusion, I would like to remind you of something: you are Ottawa’s representative on the Spoken Word Canada Board of Directors. As such, it is not your job to disparage the contributions and accomplishments of people in your home community for a national audience to observe. The things that you have said to me and about me on these matters in a very public way are very distressing to me, and now makes me question whether or not you are fit for the role of representing Ottawa poets.

    I was a member of the community for eight years and much of what you are slagging me for took place when I was still living and working in the community. If this is how you treat me, why should anyone in Ottawa have any confidence that you won’t do the same thing to them if they attempt to work on advancing spoken word in forums beyond the National Capital Region?

    To use your words, the way you have besmirched my reputation as an organizer is not just, is not right, is not ethical.

    I am asking you for a public apology.

    This is my final public engagement with you on this on this matter. I’m happy to discuss anything you may feel is unresolved in this message. You have my phone number and my email address.

    Feel free to use them.

    • rpriske says:

      When I say you called the issue about the youth championship up again it is because you did. When you posted the info about the Showcase slam you did not need to put in bold letters that the team that won last year were not national champions. You chose to do that. We had moved on. You brought it back up.

      As for the nature of the model… I am not arguing that. What I am arguing is the fact that the board was not given the right to debate to decide the relative merits of different aspects of the model. As I have said here and elsewhere – if we have a fair vote and it passes, I drop it.

      As for this year’s showcase, all I ever said was that I was disappointed. AFTER I said that, you said you were only given a 90 minute time slot, so I agree, there isn’t much you can do with that. That doesn’t change the fact that it is disappointing.

      An apology? For what exactly? I certainly don’t dismiss your efforts in taking the team to Toronto. At all. If you read the first section of the 2011 part of the statement, that is pretty clear. As for the rest of it, do you disagree with anything I said? I doubt it. You just disagree with whether what happened is okay. As you say here, you advised that the motion not allow an amendment. I think that is completely unacceptable. You don’t. We disagree. It has happened before and it will happen again.

      As for my position on the board, we again disagree. It is my job to represent Ottawa on the SpoCan board to make sure the needs of that community are being represented. At that meeting they weren’t. It is my job to tell the community that.

      “““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““`

      And to make this VERY clear for anyone else reading this, I do not think Greg is a bad person or a bad organizer. If he were still in Ottawa I woudl still be supporting him and his shows, just like I did before he left. I just think he is wrong about the issues I have outlined here. That’s it.

      Not saying so would NOT be doing my duty to the community.

      ““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““

      I am not raising these issues because I am trying to create a conflict. I am doing so because it came to be attention that people in the community do NOT know these things going on within SpoCan, and that is my fault. I realized that when we were discussing the youth stuff on Facebook, but also realized that was a shoddy way of discussing it. So I brought it here so I coudl tell the Ottawa community what happened. I have no problem that you have a different view and want to express it (if I did, I wouldn’t have ‘approved’ the comment).

      Let’s TALK about these things. Otherwise we are all screwed.

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