Ten minutes before the start of Tuesday’s poetry slam demonstration at Carihi, Campbell River Literacy Now outreach coordinator Kat Eddy was growing worried.
“There are only, like, eight people in there,” said Eddy, who helped coordinate the event as the cornerstone of her group’s National Literacy Week activities in the community.
In the end, she had no worries.
More than 30 people filled the band’s chairs and were held rapt by performances from Scott Thompson and Morgan Purvis of the Victoria poetry collective Raising Voices. Even better, as far as Eddy was concerned, two local youth stepped forward to perform as well, and drew big applause.
“I wasn’t 100 per cent sure if I was going to perform,” said Sarah Pineda, 17, a student at Timberline Secondary who had never before read her poetry in public. “I brought a piece of mine because I wanted to see what it would be like to perform in a small audience, or just perform in an audience at all. For me it was just a matter of getting out there and trying it out.”
Literacy Week in Campbell River kicked off with a free swim Sunday at Strathcona Gardens and continued with activities at schools and other venues throughout the week. Not all of the events seemed to be strictly devoted to literacy, but there was a method to Eddy’s madness.
“We’re trying to encourage families to engage in literacy as a family, whether that’s a play, a musical event, theatre arts or reading,” said Eddy, who spent part of the day in a Clifford the Big Red Dog costume for readings to young children. “It’s about dropping your cell phones; spending some time working and learning together.”
Slam poetry, she said, was a way to engage youth through cadences and rhyme that can mimic rap and hip-hop music, and through its commentary on relevant social topics.
“It really engages youth,” Eddy said. “It’s kind of become the cool, hip thing to be a part of.”
Ramona, a transgendered grade 11 student at Carihi, performed two pieces that touched on some of those social issues.
“I really like performing because I can be very vocal and nobody interrupts me,” she said. “Also, I can talk about my gender. Typically, venues where I perform you would get thrown out for telling someone that being transgendered wasn’t valid.”
Thompson and Purvis introduced slam poetry to a mixed audience of teens, adults and a few younger children, many of whom were clearly new to the concept. The pair taught guests how to recognize a particularly good line or point without interrupting, through vigorous snapping of the fingers.
After a slow start, the audience became more and more engaged as the performance went on, and was particularly active in an extended question-and-answer session that followed the performance.
“Events like this get more people talking about spoken word, which is one of the best things you can do for the art,” said Ramona. “It’s fantastic for the community just because it shows it to other people.”