Be Weird, Be Brave, Be Yourself: Vancouver Youth Poetry Slam

Although Commercial Drive may not be the social hub of Vancouver on a Monday night, by 7 pm on September 23rd, Cafe Deux Soleils was already full. The eager energy was unmistakable amidst the crowd of people all gathered for the Youth Poetry Slam. Slam Poetry Nights are competitions for adults presenting original work, put on by Vancouver Poetry House every Monday. However, once a month Vancouver’s youth take over the stage and throw down their best poetry.

Being one of these youth nights, the cafe was filled with a youthful demographic chatting, eating, and rehearsing. Everywhere people seemed to be reuniting with old friends or connecting with new ones. At 7:45, Lucia Misch, host of the night’s festivities, jumped up on the stage and the lights dimmed. The small clusters of people eating at the tables turned their attention forward. Unsuspecting diners suddenly found themselves in united commune with everyone around them, fixated on the stage. The cafe was full, and those who didn’t manage to claim a spot inside gathered on the sidewalk to hear the young poets. Then a night of tradition began, starting with two open mic performances, a sacrificial poet to give the totally unqualified audience judges a practice round, as well as a phrase of the night. Poets are given the phrase ten minutes before the competition begins and can incorporate into their poems for bonus points and prizes. At this performance, poets tried to slide “Grand Theft autumn is my favourite time of year” into their verses.

Performers on Youth Night must be between 14 and 22 years of age, but there are no other qualifications required. The amazingly energetic Lucia Mirsch drew names out of a jug, and one at a time poets graced the stage with their original work, using only two microphones and an appreciative audience. Whether they were experienced poets or nervous beginners, everyone was welcomed and applauded with the vigour only artists can bring.

Before the second round of poetry began, there was a featured poet. Queenie (Dr. Valerie Mason John) is a poet, playwright, performer and the co-editor of the book Great Black North. She performed an eclectic selection of poems, some of which will be featured in her upcoming TedX Talk. Reciting a number of poems, her performance was the interlude between rounds 1 and 2 of the competition.

At the end of the night, winners were crowned and presented with a range of prizes. Of course, there are always deserving poets that possess underappreciated greatness, so a cash prize was given to the lowest scoring contestant as well. Many of the contestants were high school students, some of whom practice in Slam Clubs at their schools. For schools without Slam Clubs, Vancouver Poetry House runs a program called WordPlay which brings slam poets into schools for workshops and presentations. These provide opportunities for students to be exposed to different types of poetry and helps them build up the courage and abilities to perform at shows like the Vancouver Youth Poetry Slam.

The welcoming atmosphere of Cafe Deux Soleils was a perfect setting for such a lively evening. Everyone is welcome at Slam Poetry Nights, each Monday at 8:00 (arrive early for seating). The fourth Monday of every month is a Youth Night. See you there!

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