Saturday, April 2, 2011

April is Poetry Month and the Toronto Poetry Slam

I have a great excuse to blog about poetry a lot during the next month. My regular visitors know that I have shared a fair bit of poetry over the years, but I fear my regular visitors are getting a bit tired of me pulling a Pablo Neruda out of the grab bag as often as I do.  So for something completely different I decided to focus on spoken word poetry and bring to everyone's attention the Toronto Poetry Slam. 

Spoken Word or Slam Poetry
From Wiki:
Spoken word is used as a musical or entertainment term, referring to works or performances that consist solely or mostly of one person speaking as if naturally. Musically, this is distinct from rapping, as rapping incorporates rhythm and sometimes melody, whereas spoken word is more akin to narration or speaking as the person would in conversation...

Allan Ginsberg

Probably the earliest well  known spoken word poet in North America is Allan Ginsberg, who was a Beat Generation poet who vigorously opposed militarism, materialism and sexual repression, well known for his poem "Howl", which was originally written as a performance piece. When it was first performed it was considered obscene because of its references to illicit drugs and sexuality and a well publicized trial ensued.   The poem is interesting with its many beat generation 1950s cultural/historical references.

The opening lines give you a sense of the poem and you can go to the text of the poem here if you want to have a read - it is extremely long.
I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by
madness, starving hysterical naked,
dragging themselves through the negro streets at
dawn looking for an angry fix,
angel headed hipsters burning for the ancient
heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the
machinery of night,
I have a blog in the making (actually started 2 years ago!) about Jack Kerouac, who is the best known Beat Generation poet and writer, perhaps I will mange to finish and post that this year.  :(

The Toronto Poetry Slam

The Toronto Poetry Slam  is a monthly spoken word competition, where the judges vote on each poem presented.   The winners of the monthly competitions are entered in the semi final competitions held in March and the annual grand slam winner is decided at the end of April.  The TPS is held at the Drake Hotel Underground, except for the Grand Slam which because of the audience size is held at Hugh's Room.  I just might toddle off to hear some of Toronto's best at this April event.

From the Toronto Poetry Slam website:
TPS is presented by Toronto Poetry Project, a collective of ten poets who also produce BAM! Toronto Youth Slam and niche slams such as the Geek Slam, Story Slam and the Haiku Deathmatch. We believe in democratization of art, truth and the old proverb, "The points are not the point, the poetry is the point.".

Blue Jay's Season Opener - Spring is Here!
TORONTO - APRIL 6:  A fan of the Toronto Blue ...Image by Getty Images via @daylife
As a segue to the next poem, last night was the season opener of the Toronto Blue Jay' Baseball team.  I wonder if any of our sports teams are going to give Toronto fans reason to celebrate this year.  The TBJ team has been just as disappointing as our hockey, bball and soccer teams have been of late, I am afraid.  Not sure if we are expecting any better from the Blue Jays this year - but it was great to see the expectant optimism as fans strolled toward the stadium baseball gloves in hand.  I work across the street from the Roger's Center - our domed stadium.  Last night as I walked home, I felt like a fish swimming up stream as everyone was heading to watch the game.

This spoken word poem by Mark Larsen, a New York poet, provides some food for thought.  Where would you want your ashes cast after you die?  Who will be the one to do this for you?

7th Inning Stretch
By Mark Larsen

You're not gone yet, but when you are, I will sprinkle
your ashes over softball fields in Central Park.
Do you remember telling me that's what you wanted?
We sat on a bench, father and son
keeping score on a Saturday afternoon.
Someone hit a shot so far over the left fielder's head
that it rolled to a stop at your feet.
You picked it up and threw it back into the game.
I realized then you did not throw a ball that well.
I could probably throw a ball farther, and harder, than you.
An inning later you turned to me and said,
"When I die I want them to sprinkle my ashes over these fields."
The 'them' you referred to will be me.
I've never had to sprinkle ashes before.
I wonder how you do it.
Perhaps it's a bit like adding salt to soup,
or barbecue sauce to ribs - no recipes.
I'll bend down,
pick up some infield dirt, taste it,
and know I have just enough of you in the ground.

Mark Larsen can be contacted at
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  1. You did not mention, Peggy, that the Blue Jays absolutely rolled over the Minnesota Twins, 13-3, in the season opener. Being a fair-weather fan, that means I now have lost interest in baseball for the 2011 season.

    In a moralistic sense, I am not a fan of Allan Ginsberg, but as a societal and literary figure, he was an impressive man, I have to agree.

    I had the opportunity to interview Ginsberg "a few" years ago (I will not say how many) when I was an "actual journalist," and also to appear with him on a television panel discussion about his work and the times he had lived among other artists.

    I have a great (I think) photograph of him sitting on the floor in a hallway, leaning against a wall, reading a book, with a Labrador retriever sprawled out asleep next to him. He was waiting for the panel discussion to get under way.

    Toronto seems to be city with many facets.

  2. Fram, I don't know that the Blue Jays winning the home town season opener is an overly strong sign of good things to come - What I heard was that the best we can hope for is a 3rd or 4th place in the American East League. That said, I guess given their 2nd win today against the Twins, maybe they are off to a lucky start.

    I find it very interesting that you met and interviewed Ginsberg. If we ever have an opportunity to sit and have that long chat over a beer or a coffee (actually, I drink wine) I would like to hear more about the event and the discussion.

    Yes, Toronto is quite a multi-faceted town.


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