Thursday, April 27th, five English cégeps competed at Speak Up, Montreal’s very first intercollegiate poetry slam, hosted by Vanier College. 14 poets – plus sacrificial poet and event founder, Nayem Alam – and an extremely wide variety of topics.
First place was unanimously awarded to Emaline Gonzalez Thomas, a Dawson College student, for her piece about the contrast between traditional, Catholic, Latin-American beliefs about sexuality, and those held by young, modern North Americans. Her performance had the audience roaring with laughter, yet also moved to a beautiful, heavy silence at some points.
Vanier’s own Amilyon Oliver-Hall swept up second place with his poem about the lack of positive representation of people of colour within the media, and society in general. He emphasized the need for more African-American role models, and the impact of racism on an ambitious boy growing into man.
New to spoken-word poetry, John Abbott College’s Sydney Langlois contributed quite the stage presence, with exaggerated gestures and open, comfortable body language, like a welcoming neighbor eager to put a friend at ease. Especially for a first (second, if you count the preliminary competitions held at each college to select their finalists) slam, Langlois certainly excelled – taking home the bronze medal for a poem inspired by a conversation with a landlord about mental illness and the stigma around it.
Slam, or spoken-word poetry, is a growing practice among young adults in North America, and is replacing the classic image of a poet with a more modern, hip version. Spoken-word competitions consist of a series of writers, or modern poets, who read their work aloud, turn by turn. This changes the face of poetry, as it is no longer read; spoken-word is not directed towards readers, but to an audience, allowing the author of a poem to employ different techniques to give them a greater control over rhythm, speed, tone of voice, etc., enticing many to abandon the traditional application of rhymes in favour of prose-like poetry.
Spoken-word performances can be hard to find in the Montreal area. Nayem Alam, a Vanier student and one of Canada’s Top 20 Under 20, addressed this issue when creating Speak Up Montreal, a public-speaking contest that encourages participants to think outside the box and utilize the power of gesture and animation when giving a talk or presentation. He aimed to create an environment in which “people can embrace themselves for who they are and not who they should be,” which is done through self-expression in a contest that leaves much leeway for creativity and imagination.
Written By: Katherine Willcocks