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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Brennan Storr writes the blog Largely the Truth