“On the Edge” & into the sunset

As with last year, the bond evident between members of the VSWF ensemble gave the festival-ending showcase “On the Edge” real poignancy.  “On the Edge” pushes the festival poets to the extremes of their art by forcing them to build, with help from each year’s Poet of Honour (Chris Masson this year), an entirely new show in the span of one day.  The result is a work of monocarpic beauty, seen only once by those fortunate enough to be on hand, before disappearing forever.

The 2012 ensemble opened by introducing one another with obvious relish, a highlight being Aaron Simm’s description of Johnny MacRae. As “MacCrazy” reclined on the ground, Simm described his early forays into performance art – improv class – which in MacRae’s own words “really fucked [him] up.”

Dahveed Delisca, who played bashful on Friday night with a tribute to his unrequited love for

You're jealous

“the girl on the 9th floor”, came out swinging Saturday with his acceptance speech for induction into the “Pornography Hall of Fame.”  With the rest of the ensemble arranged around him in tableau, “It’s Not Delivery – It’s Delisca” swaggered through the address, dedicated to his “Fellow Fornicators.”


“On the Edge” is very much “seat of your pants poetry”, forcing the artists out of their comfort zone, so it’s not surprising that the subject of fear was raised more than once.  Early into the showcase the poets confessed their deepest fears, some of them funny (Shoolie Sales’s drew a laugh with “frogs.”

Even though frogs are no laughing matter

Others, like dying alone or losing the ability to walk came from darker places and some – “that God is as angry as the Bible tells us” – came from the deepest part of us.  Collectively, the ensemble overcame their fears and produced a show that was as memorable as the year before and reminded those in attendance that Victoria’s arts community is young, vibrant and always pushing against convention.

That’s all for the 2012 Victoria Spoken Word Festival and though we’ve got a year to wait, there’s comfort to be found in the words of Aaron Simm:

“Time doesn’t count up the seconds since you left, it counts down the seconds till you return”

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The Awesome Shit Showcase

The well-known yoga pose "We should have arrived earlier" Photo by Brian Van Wyk, http://www.brianvanwykphotography.com

Watching volunteers turn crowds of dejected, would-be theatergoers away from last night’s sold-out Awesome Shit Showcase at the Intrepid Theatre, I realized two things:

1.   The Victoria Spoken Word Festival has, in only its second year, started to outgrow the Intrepid
2.  That many people haven’t turned up to see shit since Divine used to roll with John Waters.

Inside the Intrepid’s shoebox-like environs, those of us who arrived early or – if they were particularly handsome and named Bren – had a seat saved for them, were treated to three full hours of hot, sweaty poetry.  As the house lights went down I had another realization – while surrounded by pretty, young people it is impossible to completely put out of your mind how much you are perspiring.

Victoria's Jacob Arts asks Jesus for answers, air conditioning. Photo by Brian Van Wyk, http://www.brianvanwykphotography.com

Simon Wourms, who won the crowd over Thursday night with his tale of doomed romance – the one about turkeys – was the first to take the stage. As expected, those who had been in attendance at Tongues of Fire greeted the Saskatoon native with cries of “Gobble! Gobble! Gobble!” He lead off a piece about emaciated video gamers that mixed clever rhymes with mock death-metal growls, like an a Capella Dethklok (see left).  He followed with a twist on “My Favorite Things” – “Things That I Hate” – that might not have done much for Julie Andrews in her Sound of Music days but would have appealed to her during her S.O.B., rock ‘n roll years.

We returned to the video game theme later in the night courtesy of 19-year-old Shoolie Sales, described by emcee Dave Morris as the festival’s cutest poet.  Somewhere in-between performing a standing backflip and bringing forth a tidal wave of maternal coos from the women in the audience, Sales rhymed about Final Fantasy, Super Mario Brothers and how the touch of a woman can propel you headlong into the 11th verse of 1 Corinthians 13.

Later, Sales struck a serious note with a poem about his trademark (and damnably charming) smile being a scar of past heartbreak and, at times, a wall between the world and himself.

Vancouver’s Sonya Littlejohn had a lot to say about heartbreak as well with two touching pieces – one concerning a close friend’s recent suicide, another the horror of rape and its aftermath.  Her voice soft but strong, Littlejohn refused to apologize for the unflinching nature of her work, which was no less beautiful for being harrowing.

From heartbreak we went to technophobia, with both Erin Dingle & Johnny MacRae performing poems about the ways technology is changing our lives.  Her iPhone in hand, Dingle railed against the lifestyle bought into by those who choose the “poisoned Apple” while MacRae goggled at unseen eyes in the sky and declared Google “fucking creepy”.

For me the highlight of the evening was the story told by Victoria’s Justin McGrail.  Wearing a vintage Maple Leafs jersey he described his first visit to Toronto’s Maple Leaf Gardens (a February 28, 1976 game against the California Golden Seals), weaving together personal and historical detail with nostalgia and an obvious love of the game.  His memories of that game bled into the future and the Garden’s tragic new life as a Loblaw’s supermarket, giving the tale an undeniably Canadian melancholy.

Justin McGrail knows how to tell a story. Photo by Brian Van Wyk, http://www.brianvanwykphotography.com

Winnipeg’s Aaron Simm performance was a close second to McGrail’s.  He struck a chord early in the evening with a fiery reading of his newest piece, “Bumblebee” – a call to grassroots action for the dispossessed from the streets of Greece to Zuccotti park and beyond.  Montreal’s Anne Petitclerc also weighed in on grassroots activism before working her way to unicorn farts, sequins and asking, “At the end of the day, don’t we all just want glitter on our pants and come on our face?”

Now there’s a question for the ages.

Anne Petitclerc ponders. Photo by Brian Van Wyk, http://www.brianvanwykphotography.com

Tonight’s “On the Edge” with poet of honour Chris Masson (Intrepid Theatre, 8pm) is the final performance of the Victoria Spoken Word Festival.  Come out and see 11 of Canada’s best poets perform a collaborative piece that has never been seen before or will again.  Tickets are $10 at the door – arrive at least 30 minutes early for seats.

Brennan Storr writes the blog Largely the Truth

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Tongues of Fire Instant Slam

Poets Erin Dingle & Sonya Littlejohn. Photo by Brian Van Wyk, http://www.brianvanwykphotography.com

Something I noticed last year during the Victoria Spoken Word Festival was how forgiving the audience was.  No one had beer bottles thrown at their head for stumbling over lines nor, as far as  I could tell, was anyone beaten in nearby alleyways because they didn’t meet their metaphor quota.  The crowd was sometimes rowdy but never rude and always supportive of the artists on stage.  Tonight at the Tongues of Fire Instant Slam that magnanimity was put to the test when, during the open mic portion of the evening, an older gentleman advertising himself as a comedian went before the crowd and suffered the worst on-stage meltdown I’ve seen since Tom Hanks in Punchline.

The man, who was clearly having difficulties with his memory, worked through a set of completely laugh-free lines before gravely remarking that “memory loss [was] one of the first signs of dementia”.  That was enough to suck out whatever air remained in the packed Solstice Cafe and left the crowd floating in an awkward vacuum like Frank Poole’s frozen corpse.

Look it up

They pulled it together though and in keeping with the kindness I’ve come to expect from the crowd, warmly applauded the man as he took his seat. After that nothing could derail the evening, including a bearded vagrant in a tricorner hat barging his way into the crowd and making like he was going to jack the cash box.

In the second half of the evening the 11 festival poets presented original works composed during open-mic.  All had been given the same prompt words – “time was” – but the final works bore no resemblance to any other and each had the unique stamp of its maker.

Johnny MacRae waxes poetic. Photo by Brian Van Wyk, http://www.brianvanwykphotography.com

 First up was Vancouver’s Johnny MacRae -the lone holdover from the 2011 VSWF, already dubbed “MacCrazy” by his festival peers – who opened in style with strong imagery (serpents hiding in clock towers) and sweet facial hair.

What? It's a bearded Snake. Don't look at me like that.

Other highlights included Toronto’s David Delisca & Shoolie Sales’ reflections on their fierce immigrant fathers and Edmontonian Colin Matty’s tale about his grandpappy’s castle in the sky, a piece that managed to mix laughs with longing.

It was probably a metaphor but I like to imagine it looked like this. Picture by Paulo Arrivebene, licensed under Creative Commons

Simon Wourms, of Saskatoon, walked away with the number one spot for his tragic story of turkey love cut short (for the record that is love between turkeys, not, well, you know).  The audience delighted in lines like “Bang!  Turkey love fleeting!” and continued to chant “Gobble!  Gobble!  Gobble!” at intervals throughout the evening.  In fact, something tells me that we’ll be hearing that once or twice more throughout the remainder of the festival.

And now when you do you'll think of this. You're welcome.

Make sure to come out tomorrow night to the Awesome Shit Showcase at the Intrepid Theatre, 1609 Blanshard Street, 8pm.  Tickets are $10 at the door and you’ll need to get there early if you want a seat.

Simon Wourms triumphant. Photo by Brian Van Wyk, http://www.brianvanwykphotography.com

Brennan Storr writes the blog Largely the Truth

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The 2012 Victoria Spoken Word Festival Begins!

- Image courtesy of David Bukach Photography

I knew there was something special about today when my barber asked me – “Do you think fish have souls?”

At first I was mystified – what was so different about the day that it set my barber, a man for whom conversation does not normally extend beyond the things taken from him by his ex-wife, to wondering whether there is a Fish Jesus out there watching over his scaly flock?

Let's hope he doesn't look like this

First I checked my neighborhood convenience store, wondering if the weeks new shipment of dirty magazines had arrived ahead of schedule.  When I saw that wasn’t the case I turned the television to CBC – perhaps Stephen Harper had shed his fleshy disguise, finally revealing the pitiless red eyes and steel endoskeleton of the Terminator.  Perhaps, too, he had finally admitted why Skynet sent him here, to the past – to do to Canada what NBC has done to the last few seasons of House

You know what I mean

Then it hit me, like a thunderbolt from whatever satchel-toting God holds sway over mankind’s artistic sensibilities – the second annual Victoria Spoken Word Festival was about to begin!

Last year, local spoken word artist and director of Not Your Grandma’s Poetry Missie Peters managed to win funding from the Awesome Shit Club, a Victoria-based organization that provides grassroots financial support for “awesome” ideas, and the first Victoria Spoken Word Festival was on its way.  Over the course of three nights, poets from all over Canada, including Poet of Honour R.C. Weslowski, took sold-out crowds on a journey to Skullfucker Canyon and back, stopping to meet a Poofter of the Prairies, the Sasquatch and figure out what happened to all our Boombastica along the way.

This year, Peters took to the internet with an Indie Go-Go crowdfunding campaign and raised $1100 for the cause, ensuring that the VSWF train kept a-rolling into its second year with 12 new poets on board.  Weslowski’s fellow Vancouverite Chris Masson replaces him as this year’s Poet of Honour, so the train won’t be stopping at Skullfucker Canyon on its way to new, and possibly stranger, places, but I like to think that Floyd Jones is still the conductor.

Yours truly will be on hand again under the banner of CFUV 101.9FM, your friendly, neighborhood campus radio station, so keep checking back here for updates:

If you want to come check out the events live, tickets are available at the door on a first come, first serve basis.  so arrive early to enjoy your 2012 Victoria Spoken Word Festival.

The schedule of events is as follows:

Thursday, February 23:

Tongues of Fire presents The Instant Slam,
7:30pm @ Solstice Cafe, 529 Pandora Street, $5

Friday, February 24: 

The Awesome Shit Showcase, hosted by Dave Morris
8pm @ Intrepid Theatre, #2 – 1609 Blanshard Street, $10

Saturday, February 25: 
On the Edge, with Chris Masson,
8pm @ Intrepid Theatre, #2 – 1609 Blanshard Street, $10

Sunday, February 26: 
Public Workshop, with Chris Masson,
1-4pm @ Intrepid Theatre, #2 – 1609 Blanshard Street, $25

See you there,

Brennan Storr writes the blog Largely the Truth

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All Good Things, Part 2

Scott Thompson & Nat Spadez, courtesy of David Bukach Photography http://www.davidbukachgallery.com

After intermission the festival ensemble took to the stage and performed a series of pieces that were by and large composed that day.  Nat Spadez & Scott Thompson played around with the idea of an attack by unicycle riding space monkeys eating all our boombastica, PrufRock, Jai’aquarian and Jeremy Loveday performed a beatbox piece that I believe was called “Meanwhile” and Shannon Rayne read one of her older pieces about preferring shy men to their more self-assured counterparts, a poem originally published in Quills magazine.  She was joined by Jai’aquarian as the lothario and Scott Thompson as the trembling romantic.

By this point in the festival the performers had obviously developed a bond and they seemed more comfortable in each other’s presence.  Because of this, “On the Edge” was the perfect way to end the festival – a joint effort that showcased each performers strength’s and put them to work on conquering their weaknesses.  Not all of the pieces were total successes but if something this good can be put together in 8 hours then I suggest we hand the reins of the world over to artists for a week.  Let’s see what they come up with.

A big thank you to the festival’s volunteer photographer, the very gifted David Bukach, of David Bukach Photography, for letting me use his shots at the top of my posts.  They beat the holy hell out of pictures from my iPhone.  I encourage you to check out the rest of his shots from the festival:

Thursday:  Tongues of Fire
Friday:  Awesome Shit Showcase
Saturday:  On the Edge

There is an undeniable appeal to this art.  The emotions on display can be any number of things:  messy, outrageous, frustrating and provocative but, more than anything, they are unmistakably real.  As history cycles around into another era where spectacle is worshiped and sincerity is met with derision, this is a rare thing, and a treat.  So the first Victoria Spoken Word Festival ends, as must all good things, but it’s not all bad news – with the first behind us we may now look, hopefully, towards the second.

See you there,


Brennan Storr writes the blog Largely the Truth

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All Good Things – The Final Night of the Victoria Spoken Word Festival, Part I

R.C. Weslowski, image courtesy of David Bukach Photography http://www.davidbukachgallery.com

The Victoria Spoken Word Festival drew to a close last night, led by festival Poet of Honor R.C. Weslowski.  Weslowski, a 12-year veteran of the Vancouver Slam scene, spent the day working with the festival ensemble, helping the poets craft an entirely new show that they presented in the evening’s second half.

The first half was all Weslowski, with his smooth, FM-radio voice and encyclopedic knowledge of colorful language, much of it referring to acts which often involve generous amounts of lubricant.

Weslowski’s opening piece, “Floyd Jones”, began with “Floyd Jones was a Jesus cocksucker” and more or less continued in that vein – a four-letter freight train.  The two women next to me froze up and couldn’t make it past the one minute mark – as they left I heard the older of the two say, “Sorry, I just can’t do this.”  It was a startling beginning but the shock value was, I think, half the point and in walking out the women missed an opportunity:  Weslowski’s readings may have been challenging at times but they were never boring.

There were a number of dirty haiku, the art-house version of the dirty limerick.  There was the memorable “Lost in Skullfucker Canyon”, about a man whose plane crashes in the titular rift and how he comes to relish the life of a castaway.  There was more to the story, something about eating supermodels and possibly a volleyball named Wilson, but as with so much of Weslowski’s work last night the power was in the performance – the words alone look a bit like dirty madlibs.

The audience was asked to participate for one poem – four members of the crowd were given words, more accurately sounds, and were instructed to shout them when prompted.  The poet then conducted the audience members in a symphony of noise, at the end of which the crowd was prompted to shout: “Uncle Nunchuk’s Got a Gravy Dildo”.

His performance of “Beauty Ba-Bo” was a great example of how a poet can bring his work to sharply-defined life.  On paper, “Beauty Ba-Bo” reads like dictation from a man having a stroke but, on stage, it becomes a powerful, impassioned message from an artist desperate to connect you with something you’ve forgotten.

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More Awesome Shit – Awesome Shit Showcase, Part 2

PrufRock, courtesy of David Bukach Photography. http://www.davidbukachgallery.com

Something I was both impressed and surprised by last night was how supportive the audience was to performers who stumbled, slipped or forgot their place.  Not that the audience was docile, in fact they some of them kept a running dialogue with performers throughout the show, but they never jumped on artists who made mistakes.  It might seem like a small thing to notice but it contributed to a very laid back atmosphere, a blessing when you have about sixty people in a room the size of a birdbath.

Scott Thompson, one of the highlights from “Tongues of Fire” didn’t disappoint as he again treated audiences to his work “Blackbird” as well as another piece about love and loss in the frigid wasteland of Winnipeg.  Though he describes himself as a beginner whose words are simple and “less than seven letters” his imagery is clear and those “simple” words are often powerful.

Burnaby native Nat Spadez, another relative newcomer to the spoken word arena, spoke from the heart about bad friends, hopeful love and the cretinous border guard who gave her hassle because of the way she dressed.  Just in case you needed another reason to be pissed off at CBSA. It was a real pleasure to hear the passion in her voice and see her come alive in a way I felt she hadn’t at “Tongues of Fire”.

In defiance of all known wisdom, Dr. Andre Prefontaine managed to make his home city of Calgary sound appealing.  He also took aim at a brain-dead grief counselor in a funny and cutting routine based on the idea of being a Gay Indian Chief.  The man deserves a shout-out not only for his verbal dexterity but for his ability to wring laughter from the word “poufter” without the aid of a British accent.

PrufRock‘s performance, a mixture of heavy stuff and humor was a huge highlight for me.  An exploration of his ego versus the might of nature garnered the biggest laughs of the night.

Victoria’s Jeremy Loveday closed out the night with “Canada, Come Home“, a passionate cry out to a country that he sees as having strayed from the things that made it great.  It was a fun, hopeful piece that made for a fitting coda to the evening.

Tonight is the final night of the Victoria Spoken Word Festival and promises to be one to remember – all the poets will be performing a show they composed in a single day.  Come out to the Intrepid Theatre Club at 1609 Blanshard.  Tickets are $10 at the door and I advise you to come early as seats filled up quickly last night.

See you there,


Brennan Storr writes the blog Largely the Truth

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