By: Ted Simpson
Speaking from the heart can be a challenge for most. Doing it for a crowd of people under the pressure of competition takes true talent.
That talent was out in full force as the college hosted its first-ever slam poetry event in the Observatory Oct. 17.
With each poet given just three minutes to perform, the night was a rapid fire flurry of words, rhymes and emotion. Some choked under the pressure, while others shined, receiving choruses of approving finger snaps from the audience. Eight poets competed for a grand prize of $300.
By the final round, one man had risen above the rest, to own the stage and take home the top prize.
The night’s champion, Sense-Say, is a Carleton University student who has been performing slam poetry for the past four years. He started writing poetry as a child, growing up in war-torn Somalia. The art of spoken word has been with Sense-Say his entire life.
“For me, it was really rooted in my culture… the oral tradition is vibrant there,” he said. “It was seen as sense of intellectual prowess to be able to recite poetry.”
The first 16 years of his life were split between six different countries before settling here in Ottawa.
It was here that Sense-Say discovered the art of slam poetry, and has been hooked ever since.
“I came over here and I didn’t know of slam poetry or people reciting poetry, I thought they just wrote it,” he said. He heard poetry performed for the first time while walking past Umi Café in Chinatown.
While Sense-Say might have taken home the prize with his heartfelt storytelling, there was a clear crowd favourite in second place poet Shaun Sullivan. Sullivan had the audience laughing and snapping, dropping lighthearted verses about weed, Facebook and growing pains.
Sullivan has been writing for six years, and performing on stage for two.
“You don’t write for anybody, you write for yourself, and then you express it on stage and it’s really cool to see people connect with that,” said Sullivan.
While Sullivan goes for laughs, Sense-Say goes for the heart, pouring his feelings into the microphone every time he hits the stage.
“If something is keeping me up at night, I’ll write about it, if something is making me really happy I’ll write about it. Those polarizing emotions usually bring about the poetry for me,” said Sense-Say.
By hosting their first-ever poetry slam, the Algonquin Student Affairs and Orientation is catching on to a rising trend in the city. Ottawa is home to Capital Slam and the Urban Legends Slam Poetry. Both are poetry collectives that run various spoken word shows in and around Ottawa.
Capital Slam teams from Ottawa have gone on to compete in provincial and national slam competitions all over the country.
In pop culture, slam poetry is only just beginning to gain traction as a form of art and entertainment.
“We’re making it viral,” said Sullivan. “People don’t know about it, but you go on stage and throw out some pieces, one friend tells another friend, before you know it, it gets around.”