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The 3rd Toronto International Poetry Slam

08 Sep 2005
>> The top three (from right to left): Jamal St. John (NYC), Oneness (UK) and Naheelah (Toronto). This and all photos courtesy of photo artist: ROZ -- www.erozica.ca -- 647-298-9899

The Toronto International Poetry Slam, which had its third annual edition last Sunday, has fast become a "don't" miss event in Toronto''s arts scene. From it's first year in a jammed packed Lula Lounge, through the last two years at the Reverb, the event hit the ground running and keeps sprinting on with no Perdita incident in sight. A special thought this year was reserved for the Katrina victims and part of the proceeds from the door and artist-products went directly into the hands of people on the ground battling with the harsh realities of Katrina's aftermath.

>> Don't blame me ... he (heronJonse) made the Perdita joke first! But thank him for straightening out that "Russian judge." © Roz
This year's line up was as impressive as ever. With $1,000 U.S. "burning a hole" in host Dwayne Morgan's pocket, the international and multi-cultural slate of nearly 20 poets laid it all out. Their passion and intensity clearly showed -- as evidenced by the photo-finish scores which separated the top four poets. But like Morgan said, "it's not about who wins or loses" since all poets gave rousing performances which garnered nourished applause from the capacity crowd. Although I must say that the repeat champion, Jamal St. John (representing New York City), was highly deserving of the top spot.

I remember being blown away by St. John's undeniable talent last year when I acted as a judge myself in the semi-final phase. Although I did shave a couple of decimal points off for his constant usage of notes, his delivery was and still is without compare. This year, Jamal dropped the science on the social issues and mental shackles which continue to plague the black community. "We need less Negro spirituals and more spiritual Negroes" he said. And in a reference which might have escaped the folks not familiar with NYC, he lamented about brothas who worship the "church of St-Ides" --- which is a brand of 40 ounce malt liquor drink found in every corner-street liquor store in the U.S. ghettos. St. John also brought the house down with his confessions about his love for the "thick sistahs" by reminding us that "a waist is a terrible thing to mind." That won him the first multiple-ten scores of the night. But there were more of those from other poets on top of their game.

There were also the under-appreciated poets which suffered from the always-present "Russian judge" in the house whom I believe must have been drinking one of those St-Ides 40s that Jamal St. John talked about before heading to the show. That judge's scores got a fair amount of boos during the first round but, thankfully, the St-Ides seemed to have lost its effect on his/her brain for the remaining rounds. One of the unfortunate victims of the first round eliminations, I felt, was Kevin Matthews who told us about his techni-color love affair which ran from the passionate red to a soul-filling blue -- and back again. Truly beautiful and original.  
    >> Kevin Matthews © Roz

Although Israel from Nova Scotia made it further than Matthews, I still would have liked to hear more from him. Looking forward to seeing him next year hopefully. Much respect to everyone on the roster, but that piece he did weaving a truly gargantuan amount of movie titles into a perfectly coherent narrative stands out as one of the top poetry acts I've ever seen. He also both shocked and amazed with his piece on niggahs, whiggahs, real Nova Scotia niggahs. But wisely, at the end, he reminded us that "nigger has nothing to do with race."

As always, the topic of black love was high on the agenda. Rhapsody asked us to question: "What is black love?" A few of the brotha poets in the house had answers but the sistahs, like Oneness from the UK, also challenged them to really look at themselves and be true to their beautiful poetry -- and not just be that brotha with a "big dick and good credit" like Mike Quinn from Forth Worth Texas says he is. But while brothas like Thug Star from the UK represented for his own by pointing out all the burdening issues that make black men the only ones able to "run the one hundred under ten", brothas were man enough to check themselves too. Mr G, also from the UK, challenged brothas to see the reality of the BET-get-rich-or-die-trying-thug-life fantasy. "Hip hop lied" he said. "You told me I'd get head every day." Don't be fooled Mr G. said, "no matter how high we rise, we are still ghettoized." The consciousness vibe also took an environmental tip with Leviathan's mind-boggling H2O tongue-twister.

Congrats to Dwayne Morgan and all the poets who represented Ottawa, Halifax, Winnipeg, Detroit, New York, Philadelphia, Texas and England for another (pun intended) slammin' event!

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