On Family day, Monday February 13, 2017, I did something I had always wanted to do. I got up on a stage in front of a microphone and read my poetry. Perhaps a small thing for some but at 51 for me it was HUGE.
For the last 20+ years Monday nights at the Cafe Deux Soleils on Commercial Drive in Vancouver, BC, have been dedicated to poetry. It is called a Poetry Slam. There are three parts to the slam: the feature artist, the open mic, and the competition. The first time I attended was probably 9 or so years ago with my Mother. We watched in awe as Shane Kocyzan, a large gentle man recited a beautiful love poem that brought me to tears. My Mom asked me if he was Amish (beard reference, and cute mom reference.) We experienced the late Zaccheus Jackson. His delivery was loud and rapid like machine gun fire, his stature tall and intimidating. He spoke of his life navigating his identity as a First Nations person, his adoption, his addiction and ultimately his arrival to that moment. The whole experience was mesmerizing down to the English girl with the shaved head and bare feet (Jessica Mason Paull) who hopped up on the divider of our booth securing a prime spot to watch the slam. I had to caution my Mom to stay silent about this as we were in their world and not the other way around. It wasn't easy for me to get to the slam often because I worked afternoons and lived in the suburbs, but I almost always was able to get to the finals in April where I was wowed by C.R. Avery, Joaquin Zihuatanejo, Mighty Mike McGee, R.C. Weslowski, Sonya Littlejohn, Jillian Christmas, Sho Wiley, Johnny McRae, Dana I.D. Mathews, Ian Keteku, Tasha Receno and the list goes on. Over time I have attended many performances at the Rio, The Vogue, The Vancouver Playhouse, Wise Hall and of course Cafe Deux Soleils and was inspired by poets.
I have gotten to know some of these people very well and they have enriched my life in ways they will never understand. Sonya Littlejohn and Dana I.D. Mathews were in town for feature performances and the lovely Sonya said to me, "I'm just going to put this out there to the universe, I think you should get up on the mic." Honestly my soul shook. What a terrifying and exhilarating idea. Despite writing most of my life and having been published I didn't think of myself as one of them. The poets I watched in awe were the cool kids and I was just glad to share space with them. The Universe whispered, "You can do it." I accepted. After all it was "Family Day" so I would be able to attend, so would my husband Arric, Sonya, Dana and even their little girl Chakra. Yes, it was time to seize the day, feel the fear and do it anyway.
The Slam Family, or Slam-ily as they call themselves were so welcoming and encouraging. The incomparable Jillian Christmas, slam master herself, asked if it was okay to take my photo. Really? Was this going to happen? This may have been a small thing for some, but HUGE for me. I took the stage and gave my 2 minutes 15 seconds. There was snapping, applause as I finished and I was grateful to the Universe that Sonya's request had been granted. I was encouraged to return. Someone thanked me for sharing my poem. A dear friend Tammi and her husband Jason came out to support me. I felt that community that the Slam-ily is all about.
That night I saw seasoned poets absolutely kill with their pieces. I saw a couple of people choke in the middle of their poem. I saw people also having their first time at the mic. The best part of all of it was the way the Slam-ily cheered for all. When one poet stumbled the crowd didn't jeer in any way, the opposite, with cheers of, "you got this poet." What I came away with that night is that it may be easier, in the words of the multi-talented Dana I.D. Mathews, to take a punch in the face then get on the stage to perform, but it is well-worth the effort. Thank-you Slam-ily, until we slam again...