Victoria Festival of Spoken Word

Culture Events

The fifth annual Victoria Festival of Spoken Word (VFSW) began Feb. 23 and will continue until Mar. 1. Each night will champion a new concept like the “Instant Slam” (featured on Tuesday) where poets have one hour to write a piece and then perform it. This year’s emphasis is on “all-stars” and established spoken word artists.

Artistic Director Missie Peters started the Victoria festival five years ago as an alternative to the Canadian Festival of Spoken Word, where she says many artists spoke about redundant topics. “I started to feel like all the poets were sounding the same, writing about the same topics. I want to give spoken word artists the skills and permission to challenge themselves.”

I attended the Canadian Festival of Spoken Word in October 2014. Many of the themes centred on political issues that currently affect marginalized Canadians. The messages need to be heard, but in the crowded intersection of politics, the purpose of the art form is skewed, especially within competition where poets vie to be on top.

Unlike prose or written poetry, “the most important thing about spoken word is the performance,” said Peters. Both art forms rely on rhythm, cadence, and rhyme, but Peters stresses that the power of spoken word comes from the performance, whereas written poetry is about presence on the page.

“Spoken word is performative, interactive, immediate, visceral and rhythmic. The audience is encouraged to respond,” says Peters.

The oral tradition harnesses power from the immediate present and offers a democratic element that the written word cannot. Both speaker and listener affect one another. The speaker may choose to alter their performance due to reactions.

This year’s Poet of Honor is Brendan McLeod, a Vancouver writer and musician, and a former Canadian SLAM poetry champion who hasn’t been to the Victoria festival before.

“I’m very, very excited,” says McLeod. “Across the board, all the spoken word artists in Canada have nothing but positive things to say about the festival.”

There will be an array of performance modes during the festival. On Feb. 26, “Poetry in Motion” at the Metro Theatre will be a performed harmony between spoken word artists and Victoria’s Broken Rhythms Dance Company.

The VFSW posits itself as being different from the current spoken word culture. McLeod points out that established artists this year are “fully exploring all the possibilities of the genre. That’s what the festival is about. Pushing all of us to do even weirder, more inspiring eclectic things.”

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