Posts Tagged ‘CFSW’

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.

It had to happen eventually…

I guess…

I didn’t make the team.

It was an amazing show and an exciting night and I knew that I was a long-shot but… yeah, I am disappointed. I am a little at loose ends right now. I know that I have a lot of things on my plate and I will definitely still be busy with performing and writing etc… but the last time I had a summer that wasn’t completely tied up in CFSW prep was 2006…

For every disappointment there is excitement for someone else. I am over the moon that Sean O’Gorman made the team. I am very happy for Sense-Say… but I feel for Graeme and Pruf, who I know were hoping for better. I feel you guys.

Here is the night:

Thanks to my wonderful, amazing, talented wife Ruthanne Edward, a lot of my usual show stress was alleviated by her taking on the role of bout manager and show coordinator. It let me concentrate on getting in my zone and making sure I was ready.

Nate kicked off the show in fine form. He was in the hosting groove and things were flowing. ArRay-of-WoRds was the first sac and used a bit of theatrics that would have gotten his ass DQed if he WASN’T the sac… but it was all in fun.

Then Nate reached his hand into the magical top hat… and any dreams I had about making up the gap between me and the team spots after my disappointing semi-finals vanished. I was drawn first.

We lecture about score creep every time, but it exists EVERY TIME. I got one of the biggest ovations of the first round. People LOVED the poem. There was no question I was in my zone. (I did Angst.)

I knew what going first meant. Then the scores starting coming down. 8.8… 8.7… That was it. I knew I was done. There was no way that the scores would stay below nine during the Finals night at Capital Slam. And remembering that ‘good enough’ wasn’t good enough since I had to MAKE UP points because I came in 8th in the semis… yeah well. 9.0… 8.9… 9.7. Thanks to that last judge (who gave me their highest score of the night). Final 26.7. I was done. I ended up 6th in the round… but again, even if I was 5th, I needed better.

A note on the judges. They did a very good job. They were consistent and fair. The scoring was tight (which made it harder to move up… but not impossible as O’G showed. But score creep is almost impossible to avoid.

I do think I made the show better. 🙂 By kicking off with such a high energy piece that got the crowd excited, I think I helped set the tone and made things easier for the poets that followed.

Next up was Loh El. He was in first after the semis and he did a very strong and moving piece about his parents and his poetry and netted a 27.4.

Mack Cannon was next and the judges weren’t feeling him so much. I don’t think he was any worse than he was in the semis (when he placed 4th) but the judges were different and so were the results. He got a 26.5.

After the semis Sense-Say was in second by only .1 and I knew that his ‘best’ poem was still sitting there. He did it tonight and scored a 27.6, sneaking ahead of Loh El.

PrufRock and Bruce Narbaitz were next and got 27.1 and 27.0, basically holding position.

Elle P (unfortunately the only woman in the finals. There were three others in the semis but they did not move on… one due to a time penalty). She SCORED a 27.2, but her pace was way off. Her piece ran 4:05 and she got one of only two time penalties of the night… and it was a 3 pointer!

Sean O’Gorman got the anchor spot and KILLED, grabbing a 27.4, VAULTING him up the rankings.

All of a sudden it was Sense-Say ahead of Loh El by .1, Bruce still in third and then Prufock and O’G tied in 4th! (I was behind them by an ‘all-but-insurmountable 1.0’ in 7th, between Mack and Elle P.)

On the break I weighed my options. I had two ‘safer’ picks: Tricks and Moving to Arizona. Safer due to my comfort level with performing them.

I said ‘the hell with safe’.

I decided to do ‘Insomnia’, which is not up here because it is new (hence the ‘less safe’). Other than Loh El in the first round, nobody had done anything that raw and emotional. I was going up last and I figured if there was ever a time it would get rewarded, it would be there.

By the time my spot came up, all of these considerations were gone. To make up the time I would have had to net the top score of the entire night.

Poetic Speed was the second round sac. He was awesome as ever.

Sean O’Gorman went up first in the second round and did the letter to his niece which is a simply amazing poem. He often gets a time penalty with it and I think he shortened it this time. It made it a little bit weaker (in my opinion) than the full length version, but the judges didn’t know that. 🙂 They rewarded him strongly with a 27.8

Elle P was next. Her big time penalty in the first round had knocked her out but this time she seemed more confident and smoother and got a 27.1 (Oddly, a lower score than her first round piece – which the judges gave a 27.2 – though it seemed better to me.

Bruce Narbaitz was next and he did the best poem I have heard from him… which should be no surprise because it sounded like a poem I would write. 🙂 It was about the importance of art, a topic which is right in my wheelhouse. He got a 27.7

PrufRock was next and he needed a 27.8 to stay even with O’G. He got a 27.8.


Then came Sense-Say, who also was in tight. He needed to at least tie with the yet-to-come Loh El to maintain his lead. He came strong and got a 27.7

Mack Cannon was next and as I said, he was no worse tonight, but the judges were not in his corner. He needed to top 28 to catch back up but he got a 27.1 (a note: both Mack and Elle P will get another shot over at Urban Legends. Their semi-finals are next Friday)

Loh El was next and to even up with Sense-Say he needed a 27.8

He blew by that with a 28.2 putting him back into first, with the biggest lead of the night. .4

By now I knew to catch up to the team positions I needed a 28.8. With these judges on this night, nobody was getting that. I decided to do ‘Insomnia’ anyway. I had a bit of a flub early, that I don’t think anyone really caught. I recovered it nicely and go through the rest. I finished strong, but I knew it wasn’t enough… even if the scores were closer. 27.3

In the end I finished 6th in both rounds, so it WASN’T the hole from the semis that did me in. I just wasn’t up to it this year.

Because of the tie, we had FIVE poets in the third round. Loh El had a .4 lead on Sense-Say and seemed a lock for the win. The real excitement seemed to be between O’G and Pruf. One would be the team alternate (which is still on the team and a very important position, but I think most people would prefer to get to be in a competing spot).

O’G went up first and did one of his recent classics. 27.8

Then Pruf did his ‘Snow’ poem… the patois sequel to his ‘Food’ poem from last year. People loved it and the judges gave him a 28.1, enough to edge out O’G… BUT he went 3:13. A .5 time penalty was his undoing (much like it was for Vanessa Baker in the semis).

Bruce Nabaitz went up in a solid position. He couldn’t really catch Sense-Say and Loh El, and (barring a melt down) couldn’t drop below O’G and Pruf. He got a 28.1 and stayed where he was.

Then came Sense-Say. He absolutely SLAYED. He got the highest score of the entire night, nailing a 28.5. Suddenly Loh El’s spot wasn’t quite as secure. He needed a 28.2 to stay even.

He did an erotica piece that… moved the crowd. (A woman in the audience LITERALLY moaned during the poem).

He needed a 28.1

He got a 28.0

Sense-Say is the 2011 Capital Slam Champion.

A VERY new team. O’G was on the Wild Card team last year and Pruf has important experience in the alt spot, but Sense-Say, Loh El and Bruce are all new to the festival. It will be an interesting year as they try to Three-peat for Capital Slam and Ottawa.

The night was rounded off my Nathanael Larochette doing a poem accompanied by his Musk Ox brother Rafael on cello. It was beautiful. BEAUTIFUL! Before that he announced he was stepping down as Collective Director after a three year run. Ruthanne and I went up and gave him a plaque and thanks for all he has done over the three years.

Even though I strongly support the ‘cumulative scoring system’ that we use, I always think it is interesting to see what would have happened if we didn’t and the Finals stood on their own. It gives a better idea about what the judges really loved that night. It would have been:


1. Sense-Say
2. Loh El
3. Sean O’Gorman
4. PrufRock
5. Bruce Narbaitz
6. Rusty Priske
7. Mack Cannon
8. Elle P

Rather than the REAL results:


1. Sense-Say
2. Loh El
3. Bruce Narbaitz
4. Sean O’Gorman
5. PrufRock
6. Mack Cannon
7. Rusty Priske
8. Elle P

So… now what? For the team? WORK WORK WORK

For me… the same really, just different work.

This Tuesday is the Capital Poetry Collective AGM. If you have any stake in what goes on with our shows, come down to the Royal Oak on Laurier at 7pm. We will be electing a new Director among other things.

Then Capital Slam never rests! Our next show is July 9th at the Mercury Lounge. The feature is Steve Miller from Vancouver. It will be stellar!

I will also be hosting the LiPS Slam Finals in Smiths Falls on the 18th and DJing at the Once Upon a Slam Finals at the Mercury Lounge on the 25th!

AND I will be performing with Kevin Matthews, Mehdi Hamdad and Marjoline Beauchamp at the National Gallery throughout the summer as part of the Caravaggio exhibit.

Wow. Maybe it is better that I didn’t make the team!

(The answer to that is no. Look out 2012…)

CFSW 2010

Posted: October 20, 2010 in Capital Slam, CFSW
Tags: ,

So another Festival has come and gone but this one was a little different, seeing how it was right here in Ottawa.

Pulling back the curtain is pointless but just let me say that there was much hairpulling and teethgnashing on our way up to the festival, but once it was here – not so much. Sure there were a lot of things that didn’t go the way they should, but for the most part the only people who noticed were the organizers.

Then there was the huge fall-out of a disagreement between two poets. Even saying it that way doesn’t do it justice, and maybe I will talk about it at some point, but now I am still basking in the glow of the festival.

In the end, I got to stand on stage and announce that Capital Slam had won the National Slam Championships for the second year in a row.

I am proud of the team (Chris Tse, Open Secret, PrufRock, John AKpata, Brandon Wint) and I am VERY proud of the organizing committee who put the festival together. I especially want to point out Ruthanne Edward as the volunteer coordinator. She is the unsung hero of the festival. Big shout outs to Nathanael Larochette, Greg Frankson, Jessican Ruano, Danielle Gregoire, Brad Morden etc.