The tenth Capital Slam Finals will take place this Saturday from 6:30 -10:00pm at the University of Ottawa’s Alumni Auditorium. One of the largest annual spoken word events in Ottawa, this slam will decide which of the eight finalists, who have already battled through two semi-finals, will go on to represent Ottawa at this year’s Canadian Festival of Spoken Word.
I was lucky enough to interview one of the organizers of this year’s Capital Slam Finals, Rusty Priske. A long-standing member of the Capital Slam scene, and a contender in Saturday’s finals, he was a part of the National Championship team in 2009 and is now the National Slam Master. (To view a video of Priske performing Wheel, a spoken word poem inspired by Caravaggio’s painting The Card Sharps, click here.)
He gave me an idea of exactly why he’s involved in slam poetry (inspiring, as you might think) and how far the Ottawa scene has come for this historic, tenth year of finals to take place.
Apt613: How has the spoken word scene in Ottawa changed over the past ten years?
Rusty Priske: It has changed a lot, actually. When I went to my first show, in Jan 2006, you had to listen to the announcements at the end of the show to find out when there would be another one, because they were relatively scarce. Capital Slam ran once a month and took the summers off. There would be other shows, scattered here and there, but that was it. Back then I went to them all. Now there are multiple spoken word shows in Ottawa every week.
This past Monday we had people running back and forth between two coffee shops on Somerset because there were two amazing shows going on at the same time. Capital Slam runs twice a month year round. My first full season with CapSlam saw exactly 12 poets slam enough times to qualify. The past few years we have topped 70 different poets slamming per season, every time. That doesn’t even mention the Ottawa Youth Poetry Slam, Urban Legends or the New SHIrT Slam. The growth has been phenomenal.
Apt613: What has driven you to organize this event year after year?
When I first got involved it was purely mercenary. I heard that they needed volunteers and after discovering this amazing art form I was scared that it wouldn’t keep going, so I put my effort to trying to help it continue. I was the Collective Treasurer that first year and became the Slam Master a year later. Now, I get nearly as much out of organizing as I do performing. Even if I stop competing for the slam team, which I could see happening in the relatively near future, I would still keep running the slam, simply because I love it so much. Every new person who steps on the stage makes it worth it to me.
Apt613: How would you describe the appeal of spoken word poetry to someone who has never been exposed to it before?
I am a great supporter of art in general, but the big difference between many forms of art and Spoken Word is the immediacy involved. There are very few barriers between the artist and the audience. You get to really feel what it is that the poet wants to convey to you with a certain energy that isn’t always available, even in other dynamic forms of art. I often tell people, just go once. Give it a try. See if you are hooked.
Apt613: How strong are this year’s contenders? What chance does Ottawa have of taking this year’s national title?
This year’s crop of finalists is unlike any in the eight years I have been involved. There is an incredibly strong youth movement in Ottawa’s slam scene right now and you can really see it at the CapSlam Finals. Also, for the first time in Capital Slam history, the gender balance has shifted so that male poets are in the minority at the Finals this year. These two things should lead us to believe that we may have a very different vibe at the show, but one thing I am certain of, is the quality of the poets.
The youth have pushed their way to the top due to the quality of their work and the passion they bring, though I like to think that new energy can even inspire an old guy like me to try to get even better.
As far as our chances for the National Championship, I never like to make predictions like that, because with so many talented poets nationwide, no matter what I say, somebody will surprise me. I don’t believe I have EVER correctly guessed who was going to win, and that includes the two years that Ottawa won the championship (all right… maybe 2009, but I was biased since I was a member of the team that won…)
A good example would be just this past year when the Toronto Poetry Slam team won… I am not sure I had seen ANY of them perform before that festival. I had heard they were good, but HOW good was a surprise! Anyone can win it… but we will certainly have a team that will do everything they can to ensure they are included in any conversation about top teams in Canada.
Our thanks to Rusty Priske for the interview. The eight finalists competing Saturday are (in no particular order):
In addition to the battle for top place, Saturday’s event will feature performances by PrufRock, Joshua Scribe Watkis, John Akpata and King Kimbit. The evening’s MC will be Ikenna Onyegbula, AKA OpenSecret.