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Future of Ottawa: Spoken Word with Jamaal Jackson Rogers

By Apartment613 on April 6, 2021


This week in the Future of Ottawa series, we’re taking a deep dive into Ottawa’s poetry scene—what it’s like now and where it’s headed. Read on for a guest post from Jamaal Jackson Rogers on spoken word in Ottawa, or read posts from Ellen Chang-Richardson on the future of poets, and rob mclennan on the future of small press publishing.

Jamaal Jackson Rogers is an award winning poet, arts educator, creative entrepreneur, and performance artist. As a poet, he was selected to be Ottawa’s first English Poet Laureate after 27 years in which the position had gone unfilled, while his career in arts education has earned him 2016’s Ontario Arts Educator Award. He is the current Director of Operations for The Origin Arts & Community Centre, a small performance arts venue in the Hintonburg neighbourhood. Connect with him on Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook.

What is the current landscape of spoken word in Ottawa?

From my observation, the current climate of spoken word in Ottawa is in a growth and rebirth phase. The tight-knit community of active spoken word artists can be described in three categories, we have the older generation that have been involved with the art form for 10 years or more, the current generation which has been active in the last 8 years and the upcoming generation that has found spoken word in the previous three to four years. The upcoming generation would be considered emerging artists and they could find their start on open mic and slam stages and spaces. Organizations such as Urban Legends Poetry Collective and In Our Tongues Reading & Arts Series offer platforms to experience a supportive environment with slams (competitive spoken word format), open mics, and feature showcases. Established artists include Khaleefah “Apollo the Child” Hamdan, John Akpata, and Kim “King Kimbit” Nguyen. Emerging spoken word practioners would include Fatima Allen and Namitha Rathinappillai.

If you care to make a prediction… Where is spoken word going in Ottawa in 2021?

I see spoken word finding new methods of poetic expression by merging the already foundational practice of performance art and music. More and more spoken word poets are becoming comfortable telling their stories through musical arrangements and poetical theatre stage plays.

The stage at Origin Arts & Community Centre. Photo: @justjamaalthepoet (Instagram).

Where in your wildest dreams could spoken word go in Ottawa in your lifetime?

Spoken word has already gone viral thanks to the internet and the various social platforms that amplify creativity and voices, but I can see spoken word becoming a syndicated reality program much like the mega hit, hip hop Netflix series Rhythm & Flow. I have dreamed of the opportunity of a nation-wide television series that brings spoken word poets together; documenting their journey but also providing them opportunities to grow in their craft and receive national recognition from viewers, fans and creative enterprises.

What is the best innovation to take place in spoken word since the pandemic started affecting Ottawa?

In Our Tongues has become a staple for spoken word poets to find their voice and their community, but also network with artists from various artistic disciplines. From page poets, to musicians to singer-songwriters, In Our Tongues has the most fluid fusion of various art groups and is safe and welcoming while prioritizing racialized individuals and their respective narratives.

Who is the future of spoken word in Ottawa?

Shayan Saddiq. A high school poet I had the pleasure of meeting and judging at a city wide poetry competition in early 2020. Shayan is a student of the art and is dedicated to the craft; her passion is second to none. She is constantly writing and sharing on her Instagram page and I can see her development as time passes. She has a range of topics and her style is refreshing in an art from where it can be easy to spot similarities in technique and performance.


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Tell us something you wish somebody told you when you started your career in spoken word, poetry, rap and songwriting.

I wish someone had told me that being a professional spoken word artist requires more than just the writing practice and stage performances. Spoken word is also about teaching, listening, reading and observing. One of the major lessons I learned from being a full-time artist in what is still viewed as a “fringe” art in Ottawa, is that spoken word has many intersecting skills that are transferable in the fields of songwriting, script writing, voice acting, theatre, public speaking and arts education. When I discovered how to leverage these skills, I was able to branch out and create more opportunities for myself and others while creating a more sustainable career as my services became increasingly robust.

Back in 2015, Apartment613 took a look at the future of Ottawa across several different sectors. In 2021, we’re bringing the series back, asking experts, artists, and community leaders to shed some light on their local field or industry, as it stands now and where they think—or dream—it will go over the next few years. Every week we’ll profile a different cultural sector in Ottawa, leaving no niche unexplored—from social justice to theatre, bars to sports, to the future of the municipality and its natural environs. Keep an eye out for a new batch of posts every Tuesday on