Incredible Talent at Breath In Poetry’s ‘Slam Poetry’ | By Hanhmi Huynh

On November 5th, Breath in Poetry in partnership with the Edmonton Public Library hosted a Poetry Slam at the Art Gallery of Alberta and I must say, I was blown away by the talent exhibited at this event! The depth of my poetry background is limited to listening to Leonard Cohen and reading Chicken Soup for the Soul when I was a teenager, but I’ve always had an appreciation for the creativity and power of poetry. So when my friend invited me to a Poetry Slam, I wasn’t sure what to expect (although this clip from An Extremely Goofy Movie was what I imagined). This was my first time ever going to an event of this sort, and now, I can assure you that it will definitely not be the last time.

The night  started with an Open Mic hosted by Edmonton Public Library’s Writer in Residence, Jason Lee Norman, followed by the Poetry Slam hosted by the charismatic and talented, award-winning poet Ahmed “Knowmadic” Ali. The Open Mic portion featured a variety of styles, topics, and poets. One of the ones that stood out to me the most was Charlotte Cranston’s ingenious poem about being a University student that I feel a lot of us could relate to:

Education – by Charlotte Cranston

This year I plan to be the best student ever
I’m going to buy all my textbooks, pay all my fees, purchase my degree and be happy forever
Because happiness is money, and that comes with career
And the recipe for security is going to university
Just pay several thousand dollars and sacrifice four years.

Now as the perfect student I can safely bet
That by the time I graduate I’ll be twenty-five grand in debt
But by then I’ll have my very own bachelor’s degree
And the overinflation of qualification will be no match for me.
I’ll get a job, a savings account, and start accumulating wealth
Now tell me that’s not worth investing my money, time, and health.

Yes, I’ll be sad to see my mental health deteriorate so young–
Juggling tuition, bills, family, extracurricular activities, part-time employment, schoolwork, friendship, resume-building, and a constant sense of impending doom makes me a little bit high-strung–
But hey. I’ll be okay. I’m sure I’ll make it through.
I can handle student life
Or my name isn’t Student 1294422.

I mean, look around at campus life, and all the things that students do
While pursuing higher education and drinking in the view.
That’s how I know that every single student at this school
Is here because they want to be, they think that learning’s cool.

Here in this institution four times the size of my hometown,
The world is our oyster, reach for the stars, opportunities abound.
But wait– you say an arts degree won’t guarantee employment?
Well that’s okay. I can stay for personal enjoyment.
It’s worth the endless stress and bother
To know that I am helping others.
When I pay my tuition fees and rack up student loans,
I help poor university presidents finance million-dollar homes.

Now I realize you’re probably thinking
But Charlotta! Statistically speaking, the fact that neither of your parents have degrees greatly diminishes your chance of graduating and the fact that you’re rural reduces your chance of entering university in the first place, as it is an institution that perpetuates patterns of inequality and in our changing world expecting permanent full-time employment is frankly naive.

I can’t deny all this is true,
But it’ll be worth it and I’ll prove it to you.
All my life I’ve been taught that the only key to happiness is a college degree
So maybe happiness isn’t wealth.
Maybe it’s making a name for oneself.
Someday in papers left and right
You’ll be seeing my name in black and white
In headlines, in bylines, and in book reviews,
Student 1294422.

 

The poetry slam portion of the night featured 7 incredibly talented local poets, among which were Edmonton Poetry Laureate Anna Marie Sewell and a National Champion of Spoken Word, Liam Coady:

These performers were featured in 3 rounds of poetry covering an array of topics including themes like grappling with ethnicity, the paradox of becoming a Canadian citizen, clever commentaries on society, consumerism, feminism and other topics that most of the audience could relate to (namely two very clever poems about excrement). Here are some of the highlights from the night:

First up, the ever-so-talented Sean Sonego. Sean’s talent for the articulation of his poignant poems was astonishing. Each one of the competitors had their own way of expressing their poems, and their unique delivery of each poem demonstrated their individuality. Reading their poem in text does not do the poet justice as it does not nearly begin to describe how incredible the live, spoken performance was. Sean was kind enough to send me an audio clip of his “Water Poem”:

Another one of my favourites was from the 2011 National Champion of Spoken Word, Liam Coady, who also had a clear aptitude for expressing his literary compositions. He was the winner of the poetry slam that night, and it was evident in the 3 poems he featured that he clearly has a gift for writing and performing poetry. My favourite was his very clever “Poopy Poem”.

 

Poopy Poetry

This poem is a mountain
Of bullshit
It may use fancy words
It may have an interesting structure
It may even have a compelling theme
But we all know that’s just Poopy Poetry
Poopy poetry rocketing out of my asshole
Poopy poetry with the stench of “I’m gonna change the world!”
But I can’t change shit
Because I am a shitty person

I shit everywhere
I have pooped in Calgary,
Shat in Edmonton
Had the runs in Vancouver
Ran from the runs in Toronto
My shit carried me to London
Where I shat in Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre
Shakespeare is some well-written shit
Its smart shit
All the fancy shits buy their overpriced tickets
To watch that shit
They don’t even understand that shit
Sidenote:
Hamlet needs more poop jokes. That shit would be hilarious.

Most music is shit
Top 40’s are recycled shit
Top 40’s told me bitches ain’t shit
Top 40’s told me shit was cray
But I don’t believe the shit spewing from the radio
Producers sit in brown boardrooms and feast on all the new shit
Thinking it tastes like chocolate
It’s not chocolate
Not anymore
It’s shit

And why should I think about that shit
When there is way worse shit happening in the world
There’s plenty of shit to go around
Like the shit going on in Ukraine
Or the butt load of shit in the Middle East
Or the shit happening right here that we don’t give a shit about.
We can’t keep ignoring that shit
Shit is constantly hitting the fan
And the newscasters and politicians make up shit
So we can feel safe
But newscasters and politicians such shits
I need to watch Last Week Tonight so John Oliver can make their shit make sense
At the same time I got my own shit to deal with
Like relationshits
And Friendshits
And sometimes I have a hard time taking a shit
I gotta loosen up
But shit happens everywhere
Shit happens to everyone
You can’t avoid shit

The whole world is shit.
A heaping pile of brown feces fuming ‘round the sun
But that’s not bad
The sun shines its shit onto our shit so we can see shit
and grow shit and eat shit to make more shit
And that shit’s good
That shit’s necessary
Shit might be the only thing holding us together 

Because we are all shits
All kinds of shapes and sizes and textures and smells of shit
We are a plethora of poopy slpishing and splashing in the toilet bowl of life
Spinning round and round until the big flush off the mortal coil

So its good to be loose with your shit
There is no point to holding onto your shit
In fact it could be dangerous
And when you’re too precious with your shit it just gets weird
So that shit go
Let it fly
Shit don’t last forever
And that’s okay!
Bugs and flies dig that shit
They love that shit

And they can have it
Because we’re making room for more shit
Like cool shit
Or fancy shit
Or the shit that makes us wake up our roommate in the middle of the night
Just to say “Have you seen this shit”
I want to see all the shit
Or at least a ton of shit
I want to witness as much shit as I can handle

I want to get to know your shit
See what makes your shit special
The kinda shit your capable of
And I want you to get to know my shit
Feel free to take some of the shit you like
No skin off my back
And if we aren’t grossed out by each other by the time we’re done
Lets make some shit
together
Like fun shit
Or crazy shit
Or “I can’t believe this shit” shit
And even if what we make is just more shit
That’s okay
Cause shit’s necessary
Shit’s good.

 

The runner-up of the night was Elias Assefa, whose poems included themes about embracing his mix of ethnicities, “Politicks”, and my favourite poem of the night, “Thank You Crustless Bread”: an eloquent piece of poetry that combined the perfect combination of humour, irony and pessimism. It is an example of excellent story telling, rhythm and rhyme inspired by a ridiculous grocery product. The poem is the tragic story of a scientist who studies to cure cancer and graduates to a job in genetic food modification. It is not only entertaining, but also seamlessly intertwined in an ingenious underlying social commentary.

As the night came to an end, I quickly went to talk to some of the poets and congratulated Liam. I couldn’t believe the calibre of talent that was here in Edmonton! I must commend all the poets for having the bravery to go on stage and pour their souls out in front of a crowd. I can’t imagine how much time it takes to write the poems and to rehearse and memorize it to recite it to a room full of strangers. At the event, I was lucky enough to be chosen as one of the random judges in the audience. It was a difficult job to judge the poems, as every single one of the featured poets spoke with such passion and articulated themselves in a unique and skillful way. It’s difficult to describe, but sometimes a phrase, a line, a word, or just the passion with which the poem is delivered can somehow resonate with you and in that moment, a stranger manages to articulate a feeling you can connect with. That can be something different for everyone, which is why it was so hard to score the poems. I believe the host, Ahmed, summed up the night best: “Poets are just honest people sharing their honest emotions“.

That is something I can appreciate in any form of art.

 

 

Photographs courtesy of Wanderer Online Photojournalist Hanhmi Huynh.

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  • Mathieos Belayneh

    So much momentum building up around the changing culture of Edmonton lately; it’s getting real contagious. Great article!