So, Words Fest in London Ontario… It happened. It happens every year. This was my first year attending the festival and I returned from it with pictures, a t-shirt and not even a slight hangover. It was my good friend Jaime Brenes Reyes who invited me and asked me to participate in the annual Guerrilla Poetry event of which he is one of the organizers. There were a slew of events over the weekend, but I made it to only the Guerrilla Poetry reading and the well attended open mic.

In past years, the Guerrilla Poetry event has spread throughout the city of London, finding choice locations where various readers would set up and proceed to read works of poetry in the open air to all who happened to pass, free to read their own works or the work of others. This year, unfortunately, the attendance was low, and as a result it was decided that the readers would not spread across the city (which seems to me to be the entire point of the event) and instead all readers took turns reading works from atop a stout wall in front of the London market. It happened. The timid poetry that was read could barely be heard above the racket of passing traffic and the music from the market. There were two “sets”. I read, along with about 5 others, during this set, from my new chapbook upROUTE (above/ground, 2017). I had to laugh. A woman who had taken control of organization, but who was not an organizer, after listening to me read, perhaps naively sincere, or, hopefully, with misplaced condescension, said, “Oh, you’re playing with words!”. “Yes,” I replied with a shrug and a nod, “That’s what poetry is.” I got the sense if we met again, we would not be friends. She did not invite me to read during the second set, quickly dismissing everyone when it would have been my turn to read. Like I said, I had to laugh. So, Guerrilla Poetry, it happened, but certainly didn’t live up to its name.

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After that, Jaime and I headed over to the Museum London (where later, the open mic would be held). The curator had, I assume, aligned the choice of work with the occurrence of Words Fest–and was it by coincidence, how perfect. The exhibition that both Jaime and I were drawn to was Robert Fone’s “Signs | Forms | Narratives” on until December 10th. Much of Fone’s work, selected for this exhibit, dealt with text, be it word, sentence or letter. In some of the work, the word was nearly illegible so that it straddled drawing, calligraphy and your everyday semantic text-to-be read. Other works focused on the letter, presenting large, heavy seeming individual letters, on the face of which were images so that the viewer was presented with letter as object and object pregnant with the articulation of the world. But look for yourself,

There were a few other pieces that grabbed my eye, but unfortunately I can neither remember nor find the name of the artist, so the images alone will have to do,

Later that evening was the open mic. When I arrived almost all the seats were filled. Estimating from memory, there were about 80 – 100 people in the audience. That might be an over-estimation, but in any case, it had a superb attendance. At the back of the room was a table where the readers could enter there poems into a zine that will be published. I usually jump at the chance to read when the mic is open, and this time was no different. I spoke to the organizer and had my name added to the long list. As most of the seats were taken I established myself at the back of the room and set to listening.

Open mics are great opportunities for anyone to share their work with that portion of the population that turns up. But let me say this, slam poetry stinks. I personally can’t stand it, which means nothing to no one, but I state it anyway. It is certainly a legitimate form of poetic expression, I’m not challenging that. Amateur slam poetry, when it slams into my ears, is intolerable. It doesn’t slam so much as timidly approach–only to complain. Please, please, rise above the complaint and write something which uses the difficulties and complexities of living to create something more than whining. Teach us, challenge us–teach and challenge yourself! There are endless ways.

As an aside, this puts me in mind of a poem by Andrew Nurse, in which he expresses his own sentiments on the art of slam poetry in a poem titled, Slam Poem, a Slam Poem,

After swigging wine from a water bottle and listening attentively for the first set, and making it through the featured reader, I’d pretty much had my fill–of slam. Unfortunately, I left after the end of the first set. So, I didn’t read, and frankly, I’d lost the desire. But even this asshole writing here didn’t come away with nothing. There was a young girl of maybe 9 or 10 who got up onto the stage, with her mother for support, and read a poem that she had written that was really unbelievable for one of her age. She went beyond rhythm and rhyming and complaining–and delivered the hands-down best poem of the first set. She employed a simple technique where end words and phrases acted as pivots for the following sentences–and her reading was fantastic. Whoever you are, little girl, keep at it! And thank you.

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