Words with the Halifax Slam Team

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Last year, the Halifax Slam Team blew away the competition and took home top awards at the Canadian Festival of Spoken Word. This year, the Halifax Slam Team--Shauntay Grant, iZrEAL, El Jones, Andrew Abraham and Verena Rizg—are ready to kick some spoken word ass. But first, they need to raise some cash to get to Calgary for the championships.

I spoke to Andrew Abraham before their fundraising event, happening this Saturday, October 4 at University of King's College (KTS Lecture Hall, 2nd Floor, New Academic Building), 7pm, $5.

Q: is there a lot of pressure to win, after being champions last year?A: No. I work pretty hard to not care much about winning. There's also a little tiny bit of Yes in there too though, because there's been some gossip and grumbling from competitive sore losers who think that Halifax won in 2007 because the festival was in Halifax. Even if hometown advantage had something to do with it, which it likely did, Hali Slam 2007 won by a good margin, and hometown advantage will exist anywhere in the world. Competitiveness or non-competitiveness, getting the National Slam championship in our hometown with our family and friends there with us was a beautiful thing, and it sucks some fun out of it when there are people grumbling. There are way better things to grumble about. The way I see it, losing (and winning) happens when we take the competition side of things too seriously. When the focus is on the people and the poetry there is no/very little grumbling, so in the end I guess I don't really care much about winning, but I honestly don't really want the grumblers to win. I kinda don't like the idea of the competitive people winning because I figure it'll likely lead to a further emphasis on and promotion of competition rather than community, inclusiveness, and cooperation. So I figure there's a bit of pressure on the non-competitive crew to beat the competitive crew - weird eh?

Also, I've heard that there might be money prizes for winners. In the past ALL poets have been paid equally, but I think it's been changed this year. This will place more emphasis on competition because we could all use a few more dollars. I think that in the context of the Canadian Festival of Spoken Word money prizes kills some of the beautiful spirit that has characterized the festival in the past. I'm sure there are times and a places for poets beating each other to get money, but I don't really think CFSW is one of those places.

Q:Is this the same team as last year?A: Nope. Last year's team was myself, El Jones, Ardath Whynacht, Lionheart and Leviathan. This year's team is myself, El Jones, iZrEAL, Shauntay Grant and Verena Rizg.

Q: Will you perform all new material?A: Kinda. None of us will perform material that we performed in last year's National Slam (we're not allowed to perform stuff we've done in the previous National Slam). We will likely perform some stuff that we have performed at shows/open mics/small gatherings before, but it will all be new to the National Slam. All of the stuff we'll perform will be new material—I get the impression that it's kinda bad etiquette to do older material, and that people expect new stuff.

Q: What should people expect on Saturday, and at the championships?A: Awesomeness. Poetry. A warm, inclusive, passionate, electric environment. Don't expect the Halifax Slam Team to be too focused on competition (this may vary slightly depending on the amount of money awarded to winners—we could all, of course, use some extra dollars). For myself, I do this for fun and it's really that simple. It's fun, and not the take-it-serious-cuz-work-can-be-fun kind of fun. It's more like the HOLY-CRAP-THIS-IS-FRICKIN-AWESOME-EVERYTHING-IS-WONDERFUL kind of fun. Again, if there's a lot of cash on the line, I'll try to have lots of fun getting that cash. But I kinda have a rule about poetry that if it ever feels forced I'll relax and learn patience, and if it ever feels like work I'll quit. If the pursuit of cash prizes or the ugliness that often comes with competition take away from the not-too-serious kind of fun that I want poetry to be, the money will lose value. Only speaking for myself though.

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