Poetry slam a hit in Vancouver

The Vancouver Poetry Slam provides inspiration through expression

The recent closing of the Waldorf Hotel was a wake-up call to the sad state of the arts scene in Vancouver. By and by, cultural spaces are being snatched up to make room for pricey condos, imposing gentrification and creating a sort of ‘New Brooklyn.’

So it’s refreshing to hear that there is still one place where self-expression is thriving.

The Vancouver Poetry Slam hosts an open mic night each Monday at Café Deux Soleils, a restaurant with a sunny disposition on Commercial Drive. At the door, attendees can either register to perform or just watch, paying a small fee from $6 to $10.

Inside, the air is loud with chatter amidst a sea of plaid-laden revelers — this event is always packed. The restaurant has their vegetarian menu displayed on a giant chalkboard, and the food array is plentiful. Arrive early (the show starts at 7pm) and grab yourself a veggie burger with hummus and lemon aioli, and try to snag a good seat before the show.

The Vancouver Poetry Slam has been running since 1996, making it the longest-running slam in Canada.

Slammaster Jessica Mason-Paull is proud of the event’s success, noting that the Vancouver Poetry Slam “get[s] good grants to bring poets in and we fly in the biggest and best poets from Canada.”

The door revenue provides room for some compensation for poets who perform, which according to Mason-Paull is one of the events’ primary functions.

“We do shows to pay poets, and that’s why we exist” Mason-Paull said in an interview with The Link.

The show is open to anyone to perform and although there are no props allowed and the act has to be three minutes, the only other rule is to be creative.

“You can do anything you want, you can even do something really theatrical. One of the best things about it is you get one hundred people that shut up and listen to you every Monday for three minutes. I don’t know anywhere else you can get that in this city,“ Mason-Paull said.

When the show begins, the audience is indeed quiet, but they become cheekily brash as the poets begin, delivering oohs and ahs and laughter at the right cue.

Many have their heads down, absorbing the words of the poet, standing on stage with just a microphone stand. You can tell each poet’s words resonate with the audience by the smattered snaps during each monologue and the thunderous applause as each poem ends.

Judges are chosen randomly from among the audience at the start of the event, presenting their scores to cheers or deafening boos from the audience.

[pullquote]“We fly in the biggest and best poets from Canada.” — Jessica Mason-Paull, slammaster[/pullquote]

The poet who received the highest score from the judges on this particular night is Zahra Naqvin, a 19-year-old university student who was participating in the youth poetry slam, held on the first Monday of every month.

Naqvin held the room captive as she spoke of acceptance throughout cultural boundaries, and the confusion that many immigrants face. Naqvin says that coming to the show has allowed her to share her work with a receptive audience.

“It’s a very accepting and positive place to be, it has a great vibe going on,” says Naqvin.

For Naqvin, being around other poets enriches her own creative drive.

“I get my inspiration from other people’s poems and I feel so inspired every time I come here,” she explained.

The night provides great stimulation and good food, and is worth checking out, even if it’s just to add some life to the pulse of arts in Vancouver.

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