By Emilie Tobin
Ottawa’s Capital Slam is gearing up for its final show of the season to be held at The Gap of Dunloe pub on Bank Street April 7.
The stakes are high as the competition is the last opportunity for local poets to improve their standings and hopefully move on to the semi-finals. In the end, four poets will be left standing and they will represent Ottawa at the Canadian Festival of Spoken Word held in Toronto later this year.
Slams are competitions where poets get three minutes on stage to deliver an original poem. No props, music or costumes are allowed.
Audience participation is essential. In fact, five audience members are randomly picked to judge the competition. Others in the crowd are encouraged to express their opinions of the judging by cheering or booing.
Capital Slam was created a little over a year ago by two poets, Greg Frankson and Elissa Molino.
“Back in 2004, we determined that there were no shows dedicated to slam poetry and we thought it was important to have this stage for people to experience slam,” says Frankson. Capital Slam’s first show was at Suite 34 in the Byward Market.
“It was really well received,” says Frankson. The competition then found a permanent, but short-lived home at the Ottawa University Agora Lounge and grew from there.
“The first season got bigger and it got to the point where we were literally turning people away at the door,” says Frankson.
This season, Ottawa poets have found a new home at The Gap of Dunloe. While an Irish pub seems like an unlikely location for a poetry competition, owner Chris McCarthy says his pub isn’t typical.
“I try to bring in different styles of events,” says McCarthy. “I’m never reluctant to try something new.”
Capital Slam premiered at the Gap of Dunloe a little less than a year ago and McCarthy says he has been very pleased with the turnout.
“It’s nice to see my business thrive on days where it wouldn’t be busy,” he says.
Frankson, who performs under the name Rittalin, has become one of Ottawa’s most popular and successful spoken word artists, although he is still relatively new to this genre. Five years ago, he was a struggling hip-hop artist with a serious case of writer’s block which left him unable to write or perform for two years.
In 2003, a trip to Ottawa led him to a poetry show and, as he watched the performers, he said to himself: “I can do that.”
Frankson began writing again and performed at his first spoken word show in July 2003. He started performing regularly in January 2004 and has never looked back.
“This is my passion,” says Frankson. “It’s the only thing I know how to do well that makes me happy.”
The spoken word community in Ottawa is close-knit and its members are supportive of each other. This is one of the reasons spoken word has been so successful in this city.
“We have a wonderful community of artists,” says Frankson. “We’re very fortunate.”
Steve Sauvé has been a member of this community for the last three years. Last year was his breakthrough, where he was selected for the team that represented Ottawa at Canadian Festival of Spoken Word.
While Sauvé has enjoyed success with slam poetry, he says he has grown tired of the competition. “It’s too serious and restrictive,” he says. He does, however, see the benefit of these events.
“Slams are a great way of drawing people in,” he says. Many people’s first experience of spoken word comes from slams and the hope is that they will decide to branch out and support non-competitive events.
Frankson says the popularity of spoken word has grown tremendously in Ottawa. He says this February and March have been “insane” with numerous shows taking place throughout the city. “It’s just amazing,” he says.”