Confidence? What’s that?

Posted: May 23, 2014 in Uncategorized

NOTE: I WILL be doing full write-ups on the requested topics as soon as I can get time to sit down and do them justice.

The pending topics are: Season Rankings Systems, Cumulative vs Non-Cumulative Scoring and Using Assigned Judges.

More ideas? Keep them coming!


Today, though, I have a different topic… a more personal one.

Tomorrow is the Capital Slam Season Final.

Every year, as we get close to the show, I end up writing a blog post about how stressed I am. I write about how I really, REALLY want to get on the team and how I am afraid that I am going to get passed by.

This year is different. None of those things aren’t true this year, but it just FEELS different.

First off, I have had a very good year slamming this season. Probably my best ever. This year it felt like every time I put my name in, I had a good chance of winning, even when I felt less prepared and was just putting my name down to fill out a show.

This is not cockiness or arrogance. Anyone who knows me is aware that when it comes to my own work, a semi-crippling sense of self-doubt will generally stop me from being anything close to cocky.

Related aside: The last couple of years, Ruthanne has taken the CapSlam Championship belt in to be engraved with the new winner’s name. Before that, I took it in. Whenever I did so, the engraver would smile and say “When am I putting your name on here?” I would always laugh and say “Maybe next year.”

The thing is, I never believed it. Winning the championship was never on my radar. Making the team was always my goal, and that has gone fairly well, but I never even imagined winning the championship.

Until last year.

A couple of things happened last year to change things. First was poem selection.

To get to this you need to understand that I consider myself a ‘slam poet’ rather than a ‘spoken word’ poet or even just a ‘poet’. Why? Because my introduction to writing poetry came through that lens. While I do other things, the poetry I write – the way I THINK when I am writing – matches my intent to step on stage, deliver a poem and get scored.

Having said that, I don’t write for slam.

What I mean by that is that I never sit down and try to figure out what I should write to try and get good scores. Why? Because when I have done it in my earlier years, I came out with garbage. The poems didn’t feel honest or authentic.

So, am I one of those people who throws poems out there and claims to not care about the scores? No… and DEFINITELY not when it comes to finals.

What I do instead is take a collection of poems I have written and (generally) not performed and try to figure out which of them will garner the best results. In other words, the poems are WRITTEN for ‘artistic’ reasons and chosen for ‘competitive’ ones.

Last year I was having trouble choosing so I called on a good friend of mine, and the best slammer in Canadian history, in my opinion, Ikenna Onyegbula AKA OpenSecret. He helped me pick my poems for semis and finals.

Also, I enrolled in a workshop with Ikenna and Brandon Wint. I don’t normally do workshops. (Let’s be honest here… I have been slamming longer than both of them.) And I have to say… did I LEARN much that I didn’t already know? No. But what it DID do is remind me how to look at what I do and how to make decisions around what I am doing. It was VERY valuable.

Semi-finals went very well.

Then my father died.

It felt like everything went grey there for a bit. My reaction was not what I might have expected. Some days it felt like I couldn’t breathe. The maelstrom of emotions combined with a poem I had ALREADY written for my father and Ikenna had convinced me to do for finals changed things. I rewrote the poem a bit and decided that this was how I was going to deal with things. I was going to perform a poem for my dad.

Winning was the last thing on my mind as I prepared for the show. While what I really wanted to get out if it (a tribute / memorial for my dad that helped me deal with my grief in an honest way) was successful – the relative lack of attention I paid to my other two poems became kind of apparent as I rushed through the singing sections of my second poem and drew a complete blank and skipped some lines on my third.

That was the closest I ever felt like I was going to get.

Then this year happened. After the great help he gave me last year, I went to Ikenna again. I told him I wasn’t very confident this year and he practically laughed at me. He reminded me that I had been really tearing it up this year and any lack of confidence is internal and not circumstantial. (Not in those words, but that was what I got out of it.)

Just like last year, he helped me choose my poems. Just like last year, I was not 100% comfortable with the semi-final choices but decided to listen to his advice.

Remember how I said last year went well? This year went better. I ripped up semi-finals. I won the night, despite having some serious competition, and was going on to finals.

So, now what? Well, faith in Ikenna’s advice for one. I took his recommendations, looked at the poems. Questioned them a bit (he suggested four, really, so I had a choice to make). Picked three. Talked about the order. Wavered. Took his advice. Realized he was right. Moved on. Started practicing. Started memorizing.

Then I came to a realization… I might actual be FAVORED to win this year. Not just ‘have a shot’, but be FAVORED. (That level of confidence and I have never worked well together. It was an odd sensation.)

There are other great poets but with the season I have been having and…

I started feeling really good about things. Working my poems. Getting ready.

But then, it came back. The self-doubt. I started questioning my poems. (Noting that due to my required memorization schedule, it was too late to change my picks.) I started wondering if a certain poem was good enough. I started questioning whether a poem would be taken the way I meant it and started tweaking words to ensure when I meant was what was heard. I started questioning whether I was actually favored at all. There are great poets in this event. To assume I was favored is doing them a great disservice rather than just boosting myself.

I starting ripping my brain to pieces. I was sinking myself before I got anywhere near the stage.

I took a deep breath, sat back, and tried to look at every choice I have made in a rational way.

First: my poems

Last year I had similar feelings of doubt. I talked it through with Ikenna. Whenever I did what he suggested, it worked. Whenever I did not do what he suggested (which really came down to the poem order for round 2 and 3), I faltered (pus there were the other things I was dealing with).

This year I did not choose whatever he said blindly. We talked it out, but in the end, I found that I had faith in his opinions. I shouldn’t second-guess that now.

Second: my outlook

I have won a bunch of slams over the years, including… was it four this year at CapSlam, plus another right before the season started at CPC SummerSlam and one at the first New SHIrT Slam? What did all of those wins have in common? I never went to ANY of them (well, except one) with the pure intent of winning. They were not strategically planned out events where I went in with the singular goal of getting my ‘hand raised’. I just went with poems I liked, wanted to share, and did my best.

(There was one… the summer one… where I felt like I kept getting close and decided to do everything I could for that one show. It worked, but not in a way that would work now.)

So, what about the shows where I DID go in with the distinct goal of winning? I was disappointed.


That is a feeling that is not very positive. It focuses on what you have instead of what you don’t? If I got in my head that I was ‘favored’ and then came second, I would be disappointed… instead of being happy that I would get to work on my SIXTH CapSlam team with yet another new group of people, creating art, forging bonds and having fun.

Besides, in some ways, being disappointed in a result is kind of insulting to those that beat you. Look at last year… pretend I didn’t self-destruct at the end and did all that I had hoped.

I would have finished second at best. Why? Because Bruce Narbaitz rocked the house down. The rest of us didn’t ‘lose’. Bruce won. He deserved it.

So, now what? Well, my poems are ready. I am ready.

I am going to go the Finals and share some poems. In the end, whomever gets their name on the belt will have deserved it, and then (well, here I will hope a little) we will get to work together on a team going back to my home town.

Who will the champion be? Who will be on the team?

We find out tomorrow, and I couldn’t be happier.

  1. Timely words. I’ll be heading into my first finals in a couple of weeks and I’ve been questioning my own intentions. Do I really want to win? Or do I just want my poems heard? I want it to be the second one, but I have a pretty healthy competative streak. Of course, the answer is to do the latter and the former will more likely follow. Think I’ll just try to write some good stuff and see what comes of it. Can’t be disappointed if you have no expectations, right?

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