Toronto holds a special place in it’s heart for poetry. Various venues across the city play host to for what’s commonly known as ‘slam poetry,’ yet is officially referred to as ‘Poetry Slam.’ At these venues aspiring poets gather to share original work, and watch an array of enigmatic performances by fellow poets. The poetry slam community is much like a coffee house, but with a necessary element of competition added – each poet vying for the top performance. Here, we’ve compiled a guide to the most popular collectives serve as a creative outlet for poets and performers alike.
Toronto Poetry Slam
Perhaps the most popular of the collectives. It was through word of mouth that I found out about this community; a friend and I attended a slam at Supermarket (268 Augusta Ave) and The Drake Underground (1150 Queen St W). Elimination-style, the poets competed for first, second and third place, with prizes ranging from handy Salt & Pepper shakers to an appealing $80. The performances draw large crowds, showcasing Toronto’s eclectic demographic. Topics ranged from celebrities, to politics, to personal experiences, gender, addiction, and inner-city living. Styles varied; some used traditional meter and rhyme, while others worked free verse or incorporated haunting vocals between stanzas. Unsurprisingly, there was no shortage of passion. A platform for the public, the Toronto Poetry Slam holds their events once or twice a month.
According to Alyssa Ginsburg, founding collective member and series cofounder of Wordspell, the collective’s mandate is “to have an open, inclusive space for women to feel comfortable on stage and off.” This mandate comes from what Alyssa believes to be a lack of space for women in poetry slam communities. “While any slam or open mic is open for anyone, there are often not many women who take up that space,” she says. “We aim to promote the diversity of women. We noticed before Wordspell started that many local female spoken word artists were not booked for features in Toronto, and we aimed to showcase the talented women we have in this city.” Wordspell celebrated its third anniversary on September 2 with an event hosted at the Free Times Cafe (320 College St), but their next event has yet to be announced.
Hot Damn It’s a Queer Slam
Hot Damn It’s a Queer Slam as the title suggests, is a poetry collective catering primarily to the LGBTTQQIAAP (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgendered, Transsexual, Queer, Questioning, Intersex, Asexual, Allies, Pansexual) community of Toronto and surrounding cities. This collective finds a welcoming fan base wherever it happens to travel, lending itself to the voices of the marginalized groups.
“SPEAKout seeks to Inspire its community with values that advocate for people’s betterment; ones that stress the Respect of self and of others,” reads the collective’s Facebook page. Having only been in existence for just over six years, SPEAKout is similar to Toronto Poetry Slam but with a fresher and younger vibe. The collective and its participants focus on themes of truth, and seem to be on an existential quest for the self, inspiring others to reflect on the deeper meaning along the way. The collective hosts a prolific Facebook page, where you can find long reads on the art of poetry and videos of recent performances.