Author: Andrea Desjardins
Have you ever seen a slam poet do their thing? Even better, have you ever seen twelve slam poets competing against each other in an audience judged battle (let’s keep in mind; all they’re using to battle with are their words)? I hadn’t, and let me tell you, I was blown away. The Ottawa festival House of PainT kicked off its eleventh year with a bang, beginning on September 4th with the OG500 Poetry Slam and Art Expo at the Mayfair Theatre on Bank Street.
Walking into the Mayfair that night, the excitement and nervousness could be felt in the air as poets, artists, and fans alike gathered as a community, browsing the eclectic collection of local art for sale. As the event began, we were introduced to our hosts; local poets John Akpata and Brad Morden; Morden would also be the Slam Master for the evening. These two kept the evening on schedule, made sure everyone was properly noted and introduced, and even kept the audience laughing throughout the night with their back and forth banter. Stefan Thompson provided the audience with live digital painting throughout the evening, yet another display of the artistic talent this city has to offer.
There was a somber undertone that could be felt throughout the evening, and this was acknowledged at the beginning of the event when Akpata spoke about the tragic passing of Zaccheus Jackson Nyce; a slam poet well known and loved by the community, just weeks before he was scheduled to appear at HoP. Akpata gave a touching tribute to the fallen poet, ending it with the statement, “He will rise in poetry and he will rest in poetry”.
The opening performance by collective The Recipe, accompanied by a four piece a capella group, also gave tribute to Nyce; each member took turns painting a portrait of him live during their set, revealing the art at the end of their final piece. Following their performance, the competition began with twelve poets who were randomly selected to battle a fellow poet, also randomly selected.
The audience used a red card and a white card to distinguish who they voted to move to the next round following each pair of poet’s pieces; two rounds would pass before the third and final round, which was judged by celebrity guest judges. However, what was supposed to be the third and final round resulted in a tie between Rational Rebel and Gavin Russell, forcing the competition to go into a bonus fourth round, also judged by the celebrity judges.
There were many interesting pieces, some based on issues that are deeply rooted in society; race was a common theme used by the poets, as well themes of violence, the police, and gender issues. The grand prize winner Gavin Russell, also a member of the 2014 CapSlam team, performed interesting and thought provoking pieces; his round two piece touched on the issue of society’s obsession with watching others fail and struggle, using the popular reality TV show “The Biggest Loser” as his example.
Every poet that got up on the stage that night performed with such amazing passion and tenacity; it left the audience speechless at times, and other times had the room erupting with clapping and cheers. Sitting in that theatre, I couldn’t help but feel inspired and amazed at the way these talented folks are able to express their art; the desire to stand up for what is right and true was so intense, it was indescribably palpable. The 2014 edition of House of PainT could not have kicked off in a more appropriate and exciting way.
Photos: Andrew Lessard