Women in Slam in Ottawa

Posted: September 25, 2012 in Uncategorized

There has been a video that has made the rounds of my performance at the No Rules Slam back in May. That performance and the time that followed means many people have no seen me (horror of horrors) without my beard.

Thankfully, it has grown back.

This time, I want you to see me differently… not without my beard, but without my hat. Any of my hats.

I am going to carefully remove my Capital Slam hat and place it over here on the desk. I am not talking to you as the CapSlam Slam Master now.

I am going to remove my SpoCan Ottawa rep hat and place it over by my CapSlam hat. I am not talking to you as a SpoCan rep.

I am definitely going to remove my VERSeOttawa and VERSeFest hats. This is all just me talking. I am not representing anything other than myself.

Got it? I hope so.

Now I want to talk to you about Women in Slam in Ottawa. That may lead you to wonder why I would remove all those hats when this is an important topic for all of those organizations that I normally represent.
This is true, but this time I am not talking in the supportive, constructive manner that I do when I am repping those positions. Nope. This time I am pissed off.

Let’s go back and look at the history of women in slam in Ottawa, shall we?

Well, you can’t go to a topic like that and not mention Oni, the Haitian Sensation. Okay, I mentioned her, let’s move on.
There are other names of course, like Q, the Romantic Revolutionary, but despite being on the scene for quite a while, I have not been here forever, so many of these names predate me so I only know of them by reputation. The names that I know are Elissa Molino, Madame H, DJ Morales, Festrell, and above all, Danielle K.L. Gregoire. (and others, of course)

When I came onto the scene, Elissa was just fading out of it, by her own choice. Madame H was moving away. DJ was moving away. Festrell was moving on to other things. Danielle was the face of CapSlam and did a ton to set it up for the success that was starting to roll its way… but then she moved out to Almonte and got the scene out there going.

Suddenly, the female ‘elders’ were gone. As the next wave of poets came on the stage, there were very few women and those that came rarely stayed. Among the top names, Danielle was on the CapSlam team in 2007. There wasn’t another woman on the team until 2012 (V). Of the 40 spots on CapSlam teams that went to CFSW from ’05 – ’12, 5 of them have been women.

There was a problem and people tried to figure out why it had happened and what could be done to fix it.

There are various theories as to ‘why’, and the true answer is probably a mixture of all of them. As for the ‘what can be done’, steps have been taken and more steps are being taken. Voices cry out from all sides, ‘support women in slam and spoken word in Ottawa’!
(Side note: until now I have just mentioned slam and not spoken word. Voices of Venus has done a great job supporting women doing Spoken Word in Ottawa… but most of what I will say throughout about support etc. applies to them as well.)

So, it is pretty well unanimous amongst the community, right? There are great female performers and we just have to make sure they get the opportunity to shine and more women will be inspired, etc. It is just about opportunity and inspiration, right?


Last year, at the behest of Rod Pederson, the organizer of the TREE Reading Series and one of the honchos at VERSeOttawa, a Women’s Slam Championship was held. By all accounts the show kicked some serious ass. Talented women filling a room with amazing words. The vibe was DIFFERENT than what you get at CapSlam or Urban Legends. It was amazing, but in its own style and feeling.

VERSeOttawa decided to continue it. Creating qualifiers for next year’s championships.

Remember all that love and support that the community was offering? How much they claimed that it was important to give women a stage and an opportunity to provide inspiration etc.?

Let me enlighten you about one little thing.

Nobody is coming.

I am not talking about the crowd because we could take issue with the promotion of the event. (And I am NOT trying to pass judgement because as everyone knows, I am TERRIBLE at promotions.)

What I am talking about is the spoken word community in Ottawa who have claimed that they support women in slam and spoken word… and then don’t come to the show.

Lip service is not support.

Do you want female poets to NOT think that they are considered second-class citizens in our community? Then how about you show and not give them a ¾ empty room for them to perform in? What to talk about how great they are? How about SHOWING them how great you think they are.

Look, I know that there are a lot of things going on in Ottawa. I don’t go to a third of the shows I WANT to go to, due to time as much as anything else. I rarely get out to Urban Legends, even though they have all the support I can give them, simply because their schedule conflicts with my own. That is the way things are sometimes. I am not calling out individuals (though big ups to those in the community who DID make it out…), but just asking people to let their actions speak.

Support slam and spoken word whenever you can in Ottawa (I’m going to Poetry @ Pressed on Wednesday! See you there), but we REALLY need you to stand by your words and get out and support things like the VERSeOttawa Women’s Slam Championships and Voices of Venus.

Now I am going to get off my soapbox and see which of my hats I want to put back on. This one looks good (Capital Slam on Oct. 6th featuring the CapSlam team on their way to Saskatoon for CFSW!)

  1. deekayelgee says:

    Wow. Hmmm…I guess, tonight I will find out what the support for the women, in slam, of Seattle is like. I am going to throw my name in at the first of the Women of the World prelims at the Seattle Poetry Slam. I’m not sure if you saw my post about how I feel about slam, and women in slam on Jenna’s blog recently, but I realized that the only thing I can do, is go out and do it myself. Encourage other people to do it as well. I think that is why I am going into comedy too, because, at the open mic I went to last Friday I saw ONE woman perform, and she spent her set telling us why she was a kid trapped in a woman’s body. I remember the first time I really feeled valued as a spoken word poet, and it wasn’t at a slam. It was at the Lanark County Interval House evening, and I was the featured performer. They really got what I was saying, and that’s when I realized that slam is a pot purri. It’s a blend and mix of many styles, and many topics, and that is the way it should be, even if some styles, and some topics are more numerically rewarded than others. You and I know that there are cycles. The crowd and the poets aren’t static and what they want changes. I see a whole new season of women performers coming up, and we’re going to blink, and the team is going to reflect that, I hope. In the end it’s all up to those judges, who aren’t trained, aren’t consistent, and can’t really be held responsible for what happens. I love this from the Seattle Slam page. It is a great reminder. Much love for all you do Rusty, and for taking the community to task. I’m always torn when there is all this affirmative actiony talk when it comes to things like spoken word art, because muscle and brawn have nothing to do with it. There is no rational reason why the whole spectrum of gender shouldn’t be sharing the same stage.

    Tips for Slammers

    Poetry slams are a gimmick to get people excited about poetry. This is a game with rules – the winner is not necessarily the BEST writer OR performer, but simply the person who played the game the best. Keep that in mind, don’t take it to seriously and you’ll do just fine.

    #1 – HAVE FUN – enjoy performing and sharing your personal story with the audience

    #2 – Be aware of the rules.

    #3 – Be true to yourself and your poetry

    #4 – Practice/rehearse – the slam is judged on performance AS WELL as content and originality. A well-written poem will do even better if it is performed well. Connect with your audience – there is no 4th wall here.

    #5 – Learn from the other poets – pay attention to what moves you and what moves the audience

    #6 – The slam is a GREAT way to get HONEST feedback about your work. Use it and learn from it.

    “Win Honestly, Lose Beautifully.”
    – Rachel McKibbens

  2. […] Rusty the Poet has a post regarding women and slam in Ottawa, which relates. I thought I’d link to it here and […]

  3. Dai says:

    I am visiting Ottawa from the US this week…are there any spoken word places in Ottawa during the week (Tues – Friday)?

    • rpriske says:

      Too bad your aren’t here Saturday for Capital Slam!

      But there are soem other choices:

      Wed: Voice of Venus ft. Joanne John at Venus Envy
      Thu: A different kind of Spoken Word show: Stephen Tobolowsky is at the Ottawa Storytelling Festival at St. Bridgid’s
      Fri: LiPS Welcome Back Slam out in Carleton Place… or
      The Factory Reading Series at the Carleton Tavern (not really spoken word, but it is poetry)… or
      Surprise Show at the Daily Grind (music, but the performer is also a spoken word performer, so who knows?)

  4. […] support this slam. Rusty Priske, the slammaster of Capital Slam, wrote a powerful piece about the lack of support for women in Ottawa’s slam and spoken word community. It’s going to be an amazing show and you don’t want to miss […]

  5. […] herself “J.K.” instead of “Joanne”. It’s why Rusty felt a need to write that post about attendance at the women’s slams in town. Just because women, as a population or as individuals, have been told in various ways that […]

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