Just eight years ago the slam poetry scene in London wasn’t strong enough to warrant its own team in the national spoken word competition.
On Oct. 30, the London Poetry Slam team returned home from the recent Canadian Festival of Spoken Word (CFSW), in Winnipeg, with a second place finish — the city’s best ever result.
“The best London had done before was 12th place and that was last year. We demolished that record,” said team member Eric Trudell, who at 14 was the youngest finals participant in CFSW history. “I think this will make London as a city, London as a slam and all the London poets more recognized. I think we’re going to be a force to be reckoned with in the coming years. I think it will really put London on the map in the slam scene.”
The CFSW had its first festival in Ottawa in 2004 and has since become a national traveling festival.
Spoken Word Canada pairs with the host city’s local festival organization committee to create the slam poetry competition. This year’s event took place Oct. 23-30 at several locations in Winnipeg.
With 22 teams from across the country competing and participating in poetry and spoken word events, the Winnipeg event became the largest national slam poetry competition put on by CFSW.
For the third time, Holly Painter — director of the London Poetry Slam, as well as Spoken Word Canada national director — coached the Forest City team, which included Trudell, Alan Leangvan, Jayme Archibald, Inali Barger, and Levi Hord.
Painter said watching her team reach the national semi-finals, then finals, and come home with a second place finish speaks to how far the London poetry scene has come.
Back in 2008, the scene in London, along with those in Guelph and Peterborough, weren’t big enough to send teams to nationals so they created a combined roster with members from every city.
Now eight years later, Peterborough and London joined the eventual champions from Guelph in the finals.
After the preliminary rounds, the CFSW semi-finals are made up of the top eight teams who then compete against each other with the top four reaching the national finals.
But just like with the London Poetry Slam, Painter emphasized competition isn’t what the festival is ultimately about.
“The experience of getting far in the competition didn’t make everybody more competitive, it made everybody really focused on the community,” she said. “We celebrate all the steps we take. Every time our audience grows, every time we place better at competitions, every time individual poets have accomplishments, it is those mini-accomplishments that make the whole community thrive and grow.”
That hope is something Leangvan has embraced.
The second place finish is something Leangvan, making his first CFSW appearance, said has set “a whole new standard” for the London poetry scene.
It was also uplifting for Leangvan’s poetry as well.
“It was humbling, but inspiring at the same time. This is nationals, you see amazing talent, but also styles you maybe never have seen before,” he said. “You are seeing poets from the other end of the country, from Vancouver for example to Guelph with a much lower population. The way they are different, they way their styles are, their backgrounds are; it’s great.”
Painter said she’d like to one day see London host a CFSW.
But what might come before that day, according to Trudell, would be a CFSW victory for London.
“We came in prepared for our first two bouts, we didn’t expect to make semi-finals, so we were digging through everything we had, writing new stuff, practicing new stuff,” he said. “When we made finals we were even less prepared. So I think what it takes to win it all would be having more practice, having more written, being better prepared for every opportunity that arises.”