By Terrence Bishundayal
Amoya Reé makes her way to the front of the stage and into the spotlight. She pulls the mic stand closer and gets ready to project her voice. The audience members, gathered for the semi-finals of the Toronto Poetry Slam inside Hot Docs Cinema, quickly quiet down as they wait for the performance to begin. As the audience goes silent, Reé tastes the words to her poem.
The spoken word stage is where artists express their feelings and where they get to be themselves without judgment. Spoken word is the art of performing speaking poetry in collaboration with other art forms such as rapping, hip-hop, storytelling, theatre and music. Many poets use spoken word to raise awareness for real life issues relating to social justice, politics or race and/or to share personal experiences about their challenges.
Reé says being true to herself is what brings her back to spoken word. “I think it’s important to invest yourself in your poetry, like I can’t be my authentic self if I don’t speak about myself and my experiences.”
I think it’s important to invest yourself in your poetry, like I can’t be my authentic self if I don’t speak about myself and my experiences.
Kristen Zimmer, 22, is studying English literature at the University of Toronto. She says being authentic means to express herself about past experiences.
“When my dad asked me if I have a boyfriend I shrugged and said no,” Zimmer begins, and leads into her poem, at the Ryerson versus University of Toronto Poetry Slam 2018.
Zimmer says she has confrontational conversations face-to-face with her parents, due to the effects of the extreme highs and lows caused by bipolar type two, a mood disorder. She expresses the stigma surrounding the use of medication and its potential effects on her dating life in her story. Zimmer says she uses her disorder as inspiration for her work.
“I would like to write some more poetry on it and I’d also like to write some nonfiction about it,” Zimmer says.
Writing poetry based on real life experiences seems to be popular among poets like Reé. She also speaks about her experiences as a woman. In her piece, Trust Issues, Reé talks about abortion.
I think there’s been a bit more emphasis placed on trying to educate people about issues that might be not covered by the mainstream media.
Toronto Poetry Slam founder David Silverberg says spoken word artists today are presenting more serious, dramatic and traumatic material.
“Whether it’s looking at police shootings or how Black men are treated by government leaders. With the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement and the rise of LGBTQ. I think there’s been a bit more emphasis placed on trying to educate people about issues that might be not covered by the mainstream media.”
Randell Adjei created a platform in 2012 called Reaching Intelligent Souls Everywhere (R.I.S.E.) for poets to help create awareness about these types of social issues that they feel passionate about.
Initially Adjei and some friends created R.I.S.E. after a shooting at a Scarborough barbeque in July 2012 claimed two young people’s lives and injured many others. The day after the shooting, Adjei and his friends wanted to have a safe space for young people to gather. What started as a small group of about 20, grew into weekly open mic shows in a large room at Scarborough’s Burrows Hall Community Centre.
Inside the community centre, where chairs are set up in a hemisphere pattern, a young man makes his way to the front, letting the audience know it’s his turn to perform. Jason Orduro is his name and he is debuting his poetry at R.I.S.E. in a spoken word performance called Hope.
The poem reminds him when the world is against him, he still has hope.
Orduro says he pursued poetry over time as life became more difficult and challenging during his teenage years. He was always in a battle with his parents debating his future.
“My parents and I didn’t really see eye to eye with each other as we had different perspectives.”
Orduro writes and performs poems about tough situations, kids growing up and trying to find themselves and his reflections on issues in the news.
Back at the Toronto Poetry Slam, Reé walks offstage after completing her performance and takes her seat. Sounds of cheers, screams and applause echo throughout the Hot Docs Cinema.
Toward the end of the show, as she is getting ready to go home, she hears her name called by the announcer, followed by the news she is on the 2018 poetry slam team. Reé, along with four other members of the team selected by the judges, will be competing in Chicago’s National Poetry Slam and the Canadian Festival of Spoken Word.
This is a moment Reé will surely remember.