Litlive Blog

posted on Tuesday, December 2, 2014 - 00:23 by chris
At long last, a new issue of Litlive is here! After a redesign of our website this fall, we set to work on pulling together pieces from across the country for a relaunch of the publication after a nearly year-long lull.
Our lead feature in this issue is a compelling and well-argued essay by VanSlam's Chris Gilpin, called Slam Poetry Does Not Exist. Next up, Ian Ferrier gives us a look behind the scenes during the tour of his newest show, For Body and Light. These dispatches from the road give you a taste of tour life, both good and bad. If you're interested in learning more about touring your spoken word show on the Fringe circuit, take a look at Ian Ferrier's companion piece, The Litlive Guide for Poets at the Fringe. In reviews, we have Tanya Evanson looking at Kaie Kellough's newest recording, creole continuum, and Luna Allison dives into Tanya Evanson's Language for Gods.
On a sadder note, it's been a hard fall for many of us in the Canadian spoken word scene. Those who knew and loved Zaccheus Jackson and Nik Beat have struggled with their untimely deaths just a few months ago. In Memoriam pays tribute to these two great poets.
We'll be taking a new approach to Litlive over the coming months. We'll be gradually releasing issue content over the period of a couple months rather than all at once like with issues past. We hope the suspense keeps on the edge of your seat! If you're interested in contributing to Litlive, we're open to blog posts and story ideas from both emerging and experienced writers. Just drop me a line at editors (at) litlive (dot) ca.
In word-idarity,
Luna Allison
posted on Saturday, February 9, 2013 - 11:57 by chris

Here is a very special guest blog post from one of Canada's most experienced videopoem producer and theorist. In fact, he coined the term "videopoetry" in 1982.

His excellent Videopoetry: A Manifesto can be read on the Critical Inquiry blog here, or can be downloaded in the original format here



On October 28, Chris Masson, of, asked me to “take a look at our VidLit finalists and comment on two or three of your favourites… Offer a sort of brief review or commentary/analysis.”
Four years ago, when I began researching videopoetry (I prefer the term as one word to indicate that a fusion of text, image and sound has taken place), one of the concerns that I had was how to evaluate works that used text in different ways: some had only text on the screen; some used text as the sound element to accompany the images; some used text superimposed over the images; some presented the poet who voiced the poem in person; others used text with animations that were generated by a computer program. I decided to assign 5 categories for these various forms.
It was not surprising but interesting that, among the 10 VidLit finalists, these categories were well represented: of Kinetic Text (only text on the screen), "The Love Song of Roy G. Biv" by Kevin Matthews, is a perfect example; of Sound Text, "Odds and Ends" by Swoon, words & voice by Joseph Harker; of Visual Text, "24" by Susan Cormier and "Profile" by R.W. Perkins; of Performance, "GRAF" by Motion, directed by Eklipz, featuring Zion; "Fingers" by Sandra Alland, performance and poem by Alison Smith; "Miriam's Song" by Shabnam Piryaei and "Christian Confession" by Joel McKerrow; and of Cin(e)poetry, works generated by a computer program, "Inverting the Deer" by Gary Barwin and "Right Side Up" by Ian Keteku, animation by Indie Venture.
The two works I would like to discuss are of the Visual Text category: "24" by Susan Cormier and "Profile" by R.W. Perkins.
"Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard are sweeter."
– John Keats
Visual Text is, for me, of special significance; in the September, 2011, posting of my essay/treatise “Videopoetry: A Manifesto”, I referred to this category as leading the genre; of the five “methods” to create a videopoem, this category, I suggested, presents the most significant challenge to videopoetry. Within a month of having published the manifesto, I received a response from Nic Sebastian, who had been building an audio poetry anthology containing readings of contemporary poets at Whale Sound (and more recently at pizzicati of hosanna), producing some ‘sound text’ videopoems, and lending her own voice to others’ videopoetry, including Dave Bonta and the prolific Swoon (Marc Neys).
On her blog, Very Like A Whale,  she grappled with using visual text vs voiced text. I decided to comment, ‘Visual text was never meant to be voiced.’ In the dialogue that ensued, she posed the question, ‘What *did* you mean when you asserted that visual text is “charged with leading”? Of all the elements that go into videopoetry, why do you think visual text should be pre-eminent?’
One of my comments to Sebastian was that ‘there is, at the outset, an inner sense of need/expectation/anxiety for text to appear (displayed or voiced). I never saw it as a choice – it was born as one or the other. When you first looked at it, you instinctively knew whether it was affecting the eye or the ear of the viewer.’
She mentions that she’s been ‘engaged with ‘sound’ text almost exclusively for months now. The idea of making a videopoem without voice and with only visual text was therefore appealing.’ She compiles a list comparing the two treatments, referring to the “unfurling” of  sound/sense, to which I replied:
‘Visual text is not the replacement of voice in a videopoem; it simply recognizes that the soundtrack has the potential to function as an “independent” catalyst in the integration of text and image. It brings to the videopoem the secret ingredient – from another dimension – simultaneously guiding, shadowing, punctuating and enveloping the “unfurling” of the work.’
To the colloquium held by the Zebra Poetry Film Festival this year, I wrote: ‘It is widely accepted that our century is the Age of the Image. Its sheer power to represent and modify our view of the world is almost beyond comprehension. Add to this the supreme, persistent and heretofore dominant instrument of communication and individual expression, our language, our text, displayed or voiced. Then add to these the technological advancements in the manipulation of sound, natural, human, machine, electronic. You would think, you must think, that integrating these three forms of creative expression will produce a new super-art form. Could it be that the works we are witnessing - on the screens at our festivals, on the screens of our Internet - could it be that the precious balance of these potent elements in the cauldron has yet to be found?’
Implied in ‘the precious balance of these potent elements’, could it be that the use of voiced text diminishes the potential of the soundtrack? Imagine the thousands of sound “effects” available to the artist; could the soundtrack be more effective by “punctuating” the work than simply delivering the text to the work? By using visual text, by using the “image track” to deliver the text to the work, the soundtrack is released from its traditional function – delivering the narrative, delivering the written poem read aloud.
I envisioned the genre of videopoetry as a “super-art form” because of the added element of visual text; without, the genre is a recited poem accompanied by illustrative (or non-illustrative) images, a “filming of a poem”. (While the recited poem succeeds on so many levels – the nuanced, expressive delivery, more often than not, in a deliberate rhythm – the context of the work is limited to the relationship of the images to the words heard, one after another.)
The added element of visual text produces a new set of relationships whose “reading” or interpretation enables a more complex poetic experience to emerge, i.e. the relationship of the visual text to the soundtrack as well as the presented image. In the process, visual text assumes a new intermediary function, initially signifying that the work is not the dramatization of the poem.
Visual text in videopoems should not be confused with:
·         visual text identifying place and/or time in commercial films, e.g. “London, 1878” or “Two years later
·         visual typography (transforming the shape of the letters to suggest the meaning of the word)
·         visual text which places a printed poem on the screen
·         visual text which displays the voiced text
·         visual text which can be seen simultaneously as the corresponding image on the screen
Visual text addresses what I have already proposed as the principal function of a videopoem: ‘to demonstrate the process of thought.’ The most profound difference between visual (displayed) and sound (voiced) text is the silence of visual text.
Susan Cormier’s “24”
In 2007, T.Paul Ste Marie, a Vancouver poet, painter, actor, impresario and self-proclaimed hipster, AKA SwankHipster on his myspace website, an authentic rockabilly, in-the-fifties style of pompadour and sideburns, long-time host/emcee of Thundering Word Heard at the Café Montmartre – a missionary for passion as the essence of true poetry – died suddenly at the age of 41. Friend Susan Cormier began to assemble a “memory book” that she wished to distribute to a close friend of his and his two mothers – adoptive and birth. The birth mother, Ruth Janes, was not to be found. Hence the videopoem.
Couched in a letter, “a letter in a bottle”, the work is a metaphor for the faintest hope sent out not only from the 24th floor of  the artist’s physical space, but also from the artist’s thoughts. Fading up from the black screen, the visual text, “Dear Ruth,” appears in blue, dead centre on the black screen. It continues, sans image,
“This is a letter in a bottle.”
“ I need to find you.”
With these 3 statements, we are immediately thrust into the paradoxical (direct/indirect) world of what makes poetry in this videopoem: “Dear Ruth”, the direct you of the poem, engages the viewer as the unintended (indirect) recipient of the letter’s content (experiencing the work, the viewer becomes the proxy for “Ruth”); “This is a letter in a bottle. I need to find you” – is direct in its ‘need’ to communicate, yet indirect because of the impossibility of communication (“Ruth” cannot be found). The remainder of the videopoem takes on the form of the thoughts in the ‘bottle’, sent out on a sea of minimal motion video and the unrelenting, repetitious waves of the instrumental soundtrack.
The imagery of the videopoem – an appropriated home-movie of the letter’s subject, T.Paul Ste Marie – is presented in high contrast and minimal motion (between 1-5 frames per second). The decision to render T.Paul’s real image in high contrast and minimal motion results in the almost-vanished, barely recognizable reality of the subject, the real transformed into the visual representation of a faint memory; the subject moves noticeably through extreme dark into blinding light. The qualities of a living being – moving about in real time, speaking, laughing, interacting in/occupying a clearly defined, ever-changing physical space – have been reduced to a whimsical flip-book, a novelty item.
To represent the subject as a series of near-still frames suggests an emphasis on an unreal time, when the subject is no longer available as flesh-and-blood; his movements are halted (not halting, which would emphasize the subject in real time) as a necessary function of the image in juxtaposition with the text – a balancing act between the speed of text presentation (the speed of thought) and the “fixed” visual referent (the image of T.Paul) as the agent of the evocation, the constant reminder of, and the inspiration for, the work’s context.
“Writing begins at the point where speech becomes impossible.”
– Roland Barthes
The ‘letter to Ruth’ is presented as short lines of text, positioned to suggest lines of poetry; sometimes a single phrase appears and disappears, quickly followed by another phrase. The entire screen is used as the “page” of the letter. The top left quarter of the screen is almost exclusively reserved for the phrase, “Dear Lady,” as it would appear on paper;  subsequent phrases are placed in the lower right quarter of the screen. Rarely on the same “line”, the words appear and disappear quickly, sometimes emerging above the previous words, sometimes below, to the left, etc. This active positioning of text presses the viewer to not only follow the spatial changes to the text but also to follow the information they are presenting. As a result, the short bursts of text are perceived almost at the ‘speed of thought’, emulating the speed of thought, enabling the viewer to experience the ‘process of thought’. Meanwhile, images of the subject flicker on the screen.
As to the information presented in the text, the so-called content (thoughts) of the letter, the process is circular;  10 times we are returned to the phrase, “Dear Lady”, 10 separate attempts to communicate the “meaning” – or at least the intent – of the letter. Time after time, thoughts return to the physical present, the 24th floor, the grieving, the ‘faint hope’ of connecting with the birth mother. Repeated phrases circle about the work, always returning to the state of “disconnect”.
If the poetic experience is to be of Truth, the use throughout of the word “disconnected” sums it up, sending the trope of the letter-in-a-bottle back to the beginning (‘Dear Lady’), each time with the faint hope that “this time” the words will succeed. The 10 attempts are destined to fail, we realize, as evidence of the heartache mounts (‘How do you type sorrow / or regret / or desperation’);  thoughts bounce back and forth between the present and the past, between images of the real that was (‘the crowded rooms of applause / that rich purpleblack hairdye’) and the real that exists in the present  disconnected space of the work (‘Please reboot and try again. / Number cannot be completed as dialed’) as well as the unreal (‘I dreamed of him / that as I talked / he laughed loud / as he does’… ‘sometimes I see him / logged into the internet’… in an apartment on the 24th floor / I am sure I am swaying in the breeze / but I can’t feel it.’)
There is even an effort to connect the birth mother (‘I don’t know where you are / You could have hands / thin and soft as silk’) to the adoptive mother (‘At the wake / she was gracious / and her skin was dry / and thin like silk’). Thus, hope and despair circle each other; meanwhile images of the subject flicker on the screen.
"The existence of music makes it possible for images and words to communicate with each other."                                                                                 – Konrad Steiner
The type or genre of soundtrack, aptly titled “1024th Floor”, by Avastar, could be described as electro-pop or even “trance”. Three identical phrases, each three half-notes higher than the last, are repeated; the changes are subtle and always return to the first phrase. The raising of pitch has the effect of raising the intensity of the “narrative” – anticipating some event, action, release, etc. (‘He’s not here / but he could be’)
If the text can be interpreted as circular, returning ten times to “Dear Lady,” so is the soundtrack circular, periodically ascending (faint hope) and descending (sorrow, regret). Meanwhile, images of the subject flicker on the screen.
If my suggestion that a videopoem should demonstrate the process of thought and simultaneity is a valid one, Susan Cormier’s “24” is an interesting example of how visual text can simulate the circular structure of an inherently impossible form of communication: a letter-in-a-bottle addressed to a specific person, the birth mother of the recently-deceased man, a birth mother who cannot be found. The poetic experience is provided by enabling the viewer to simultaneously “read” the content of the letter and, because of the speed of the phrases appearing on the screen – superimposed over images of T.Paul and an energized soundtrack – to sense and share the desperate and futile desire to connect the “meaning” of T.Paul’s disappearance (death) to the disappearance of the birth mother.
Ultimately, the ‘faint hope’ that inspired the work proves no match for the disconnectedness that triumphs as any kind of meaning; seconds from the end, the word “disconnecting” appears on the black screen, pulsates, multiplies and scatters in all directions…
Incidentally, Susan Cormier’s “24” is the second version of this videopoem. Her initial attempt was 3 minutes longer. It can be found here.
"Profile" by R.W. Perkins
There’s no shortage of supplementary information, interpretation and general praise on this unique work by R.W. Perkins. The Atticus Review presents a word-by-word score of the voiced poem. On her blog, VidPoFilm, Brenda Clews writes extensively about this work, including her detailed notes, literally scene by scene. The backstory (or Perkins’ term, genesis) of the work is provided on his website, “A friend had looked over some of my past written works, then started comparing it to my new films. He made an observation; that much of my older written work would be considered stream of consciousness, and that I should try implementing that style in some of my film poems...”
As “stream of consciousness” is the literary equivalent of ‘process of thought’, I was immediately intrigued. What can one (not) imagine floating down the stream of consciousness?
He goes on to describe the OULIPO-styled, self-imposed constraints to achieve this: “I had 30 minutes to write, then 30 minutes to do a reading.”  In addition, “Both the subject and name of the poem were directly influenced by online social identities, blurbs about one's life creating a narrative of their day.”
Brenda Clews endorses the subject/title ‘Profile’: “When I saw it I felt it was a marker of our era. That surely many films of this type will follow, but his was the first. Identity in the twenty-first century is shaped by social media sites. Your life is not contained in your private diaries and photo albums anymore; it's all on-line now. The notion of who we are has never been more global or more revealing. One's Facebook profile updates and photo albums provide many snapshots of a life. R.W. Perkins has captured that sense of a collided life, a life of snapshots and home videos and snatches of writing. It is a fast-paced life. We describe ourselves to each other. There are millions of us. Facebook is approaching 1/7th of the world's population. It is a social media site that is creating a twenty-first [century] sense of self.”
The notion of who we are. If ever there was a reason for any form of creative expression… here it is.
Perkins’ title sequence immediately establishes what appears to be a signature style: sliding mile-high Helvetica text across split or multiple screens, recalling Heather Haley’s praise for the work as “big, bombastic and sublimely funny”. Watching the video on a 40-foot screen at the Cinémathèque in Vancouver, the oversize text, juxtaposed with extreme close-ups, was a powerful, in-your-face experience.
Relating Perkins’ visual text style to his earlier “Under a Man-Made Sun”, a videopoem wherein certain spoken words are accompanied by their visual signs as phonetic spellings of these words, some with their dictionary-style definitions, key words in “Profile” appear bold and tall, variously vertical or horizontal, punctuating the voice with precision. If visual text simply repeating key words heard on the soundtrack appears inessential (consider most car ads on TV), Perkins attempts to avoid this inclination by elaborating on the word: the voiced phrase, “2 sugars, cream…” becomes the visual text, “SUGAR C12H22O11 CREAM”; “I toil through the work day” becomes “LABORIOUS” and “WORKING HARD OR HARDLY WORKING”; “My emotional locomotive” becomes “EMOTIONAL LOCOMOTIVE” plus “’I heard the Denver and Rio Grande LOCOMOTIVES howling off in to the mountains. I wanted to pursue my star further.’ Jack Kerouac”.
"The more the relationship between the two juxtaposed realities is distant and true, the stronger the image will be – the greater its emotional power and poetic reality."                                                                                       - Pierre Reverdy
Using both Sound Text and Visual Text in a videopoem has its challenges; while the idea is to present some semblance of association between the two, the aesthetics of the genre, as I see it, demand a more ambiguous, even oblique association between the elements of sound, image and text. While Reverdy’s axiom is aimed at two images, it makes sense to see the relationship equally applicable between text and image or, in this case, the written text and voiced text.
It gets better. The voiced text, “I am amused  at a funny thing that somebody said to me from the night before, but I can’t quite recall the phrasing, or even the subject” becomes associated with the following visual text a few seconds later, “’THE EXISTENCE OF FORGETTING HAS NEVER BEEN PROVED: WE ONLY KNOW THAT SOME THINGS DO NOT COME TO OUR MIND WHEN WE WANT THEM TO’ Friedrich Nietzsche”. Thus the stream of consciousness is presented as associative texts – the author’s thoughts are presented as commingled with related “reads”.
The next scene abandons the voice as it shifts to an aisle in a supermarket (scored with a 1950s theme), superimposing: “I AM LOST IN MY HEAD IN THE SUPERMARKET / I AM THINKING OF THE INEVITABLE END OF MY LIFE AND ABOUT SAVING 20 CENTS ON AN OFF BRAND OF YOGHURT THAT I KNOW I WON’T LIKE.” While the substitution of visual text for voiced text in this central scene disrupts the “flow” of the stream of consciousness (we have become familiar with Perkins voice and expect it to continue), it does propel the narrative into its end-game, the vision outside the window of a jogger and a woman with a stroller.
The end-game is delivered without the interplay of visual text; Perkins’ rolling voice is juxtaposed with images presented again in split and multiple screens, for the most part illustrating the text. But between the images of clouds and airplanes and joggers and strollers and backyards and a close-up of Perkins’ eyes… there are the words, the words that have slipped from the stream of his consciousness, “as the mother passes, I see the jogger fade into the future… and that the jet airplane overhead is full of self-importance… Profile: I’m awake, I can think, I exist. I can see that today - I am prodigious.”
The notion of who we are. If the images we have presented, captured or appropriated, if the words we have written, spoken, overheard, read or tasted, if the sounds we have gathered and wound around our images and words cannot tell, nothing can.
– Feb. 1, 2013
posted on Saturday, November 3, 2012 - 17:15 by chris
Just ahead of your autumn issue of LitLive, we've got a few announcements for you poets.
1) LitLive is partnering with Montreal's favourite campus community radio station CKUT to bring you the Words on Waves contest. Send your spoken word recordings to before November 30th for a chance to win a fantastic poetry and music prize pack from LitLive and CKUT. Selected entries will be featured on CKUT every week! See the CKUT website for details
2) The Banff Centre's Spoken Word & Storytelling program is now accepting applications for their 2013 program. Visit the Banff's Centre's website for details. Also check out Mary Pinkoski's article on the Banff program in issue 6.

3) Finally, the city of Victoria is looking for their first youth poet laureate! The winning applicant will receive a $1500 honorarium, a yearlong mentorship with poet Jeremy Loveday, and $1000 in project funding. Visit the Facebook event page for details. 

posted on Monday, September 10, 2012 - 14:07 by chris

Like many existing programs, WordPlay-- Vancouver Poetry House's poets-in-schools program-- was dismayed to learn that despite receiving funding from the Canada Council in the past, their application was denied this year. LitLive profiled WordPlay in issue five's feature article.

So now they've turned to IndieGoGo to crowdsource the funding they need to staff the program. You can help them out here: As with all IndieGoGo campaigns, supporters receive perks, based on the value of their donation. Last month at Vancouver poetry slam, one contributor collected their perk live onstage: shaving poet Johnny Macrae's head! The donator just happened to be one of Johnny's biggest fans and critics-- his mother.
We hope you can support this very worthy cause.
posted on Thursday, September 6, 2012 - 10:57 by chris

Back in July, three of us sat in a sweltering photography studio and sipped a mixer pack of Alexander Keith's for 4 hours while dozens of video poems were projected on the wall. We were all very gratfeul that the editorial board for LitLive had tasked us with choosing 10 finalists, and not one winner. I don't know how any panel could have done that, given the calibre and diversity of the field.

It was so difficult, in fact, that we decided to name a few runners up. Due to some technical difficulties, we're not able to embed them here. So here are their links, in no particular order:

"Superhero" by Laura Burke 

 "Paper Cut" by Zorras

"Arielle's Song" by Jane Gabriels


And meet our judging panel:

 Tamara Scherbak is a filmmaker and installation artist based in Montreal, Quebec. Her short films, Only Sky & Water, Recycle, Reuse, Remix, Dedashka and Raya, have screened in numerous festivals around the world and have notably won awards for Best Film and Best Director. She has a B.F.A in film production from the Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema and has participated in film workshops at the EICTV in Cuba, at the Centre Imagine in Burkina Faso, at the 2009 Toronto International Film Festival Talent Lab and at the 2012 Berlinale Talent Campus. She has also been creating multi-media installation that incorporate dance and architecture which have been shown at festivals in Canada, Germany and Mexico. Avid poetry lover, she is currently working on a documentary about a poetry and music festival happening all on a train.

Catherine Kidd is author of the novel Missing the Ark, the poetry collection Bipolar bear, and the solo show Sea Peach, which toured over five years to such venues as Singapore's Esplanade on the Bay, Toronto Harbourfront's World Stage, and the Spier Arts Poetry Festival
in Cape Town, South Africa. Her writing has appeared in P.E.N.International magazine and The Journey Prize Anthology, while her voice may be heard in narrating documentaries, air safety messages, and video games.Her new solo show Hyena Subpoena features soundscape and video installation, and was launched last Fall in Montreal. 
Chris Masson is the editor of
Congratulations to our runners-up, and good luck to all our finalists!


posted on Friday, August 10, 2012 - 21:39 by chris
Remind me not to follow Kaie Kellough at a reading. After 20 minutes of listening to him balletically "break the language"-- bantering in Dyslexic, phoentically dubbing and deconstructing the alphabet-- I scarcely know what poetry is anymore. If an attack on the language had endured much longer, I may lose my ability to navigate meaning and function as a human more than 7 months old, and then achieve satori. I mean that all in a good way.
Luckily, Cornelia Hoogland's imagery is immersive enough to keep us tethered to this plane, and hold its own after any reader. Both of them offer intriguing insight into their work in an informal Q&A after their readings too, in this video recored April 2012 at Emily Carr University.


posted on Saturday, June 30, 2012 - 12:17 by chris
 While researching and writing the issue #5 feature on poets in schools, I heard a lot of information from my interviewees that I thought would make great advice for a burgeoning school or community program. I even considered structuring the article in the vain of "10 things you MUST know or your projet will FAIL", a format that I've always heard web marketers are crazy about. But I'm a rational man. And to me ten pieces of advice sounds more like an overlong family dinner than a good read. 
Nevertheless, I jotted down a few. Here they are for you!
Four (Not Ten) Tips for Poets-in-Schools Programs
#1 – Budget to have some paid administrative time. This may not be feasible at the very start, but everyone who I spoke to with a stable program all had someone dedicated, usually part-time, to contacting schools, coordinating with poets, writing cheques, etc. Teachers often struggle under the weight of their course loads, and having a little difficulty connecting with a program coordinator who has no time to coordinate could be enough to turn them away. This is a concept that marketers know well: the bigger the perceived obstacles to obtaining a good or service, the smaller the desire to obtain.
The amount needn't be huge. Chris Gilpin admits that if he were to add up all the hours he puts into the job in a month, the pay probably would be less than minimum wage. But it supplements his income enough that he can pursue the project because it matters to him, and benefits the community.
Sheri-D Wilson confirms that Word Travels “really became something” in its sixth year, partly because a dedicated administrator other than herself was brought on board.
#2 – Tie into another program to benefit from cross-promotion. Everyone I spoke to to whom this applies affirmed that many of their bookings come from the exposure they receive as a result of their weekly or monthly or yearly events.
#3 – If you don't have an existing relationship that is an “in”, develop one. Dave Silverberg in Toronto told me he made contact with his alma mater at the very start, and it has translated to regular engagements. Nothing is better than word of mouth, of course, but it's not something you generate at will. It's therefore important that poets can provide teachers with easily accessed references to serve as social proof, as Vancouver's WordPlay did from the start. Says Dawn Knight, “once one teacher hosts us, we use them as a reference, and there's nothing teachers like better than hearing from another teacher that something was really fun for their kids.”

#4 – Ask for more money. Learn which schools generally have more funding than others, and quote accordingly, Sheri-D Wilson says. If it is too much for them, “ask what their budget is,” she suggests. “'What's your budget' is a good place to start. Then, 'can we stretch that budget by this much?'” Sound mercenary to you? Artists gotta eat too. And the more you support yourself with your art, the more you support others with your art.

What I really like about this subject is that the point of it is to get children exposed to spoken word as an accessible, expansive, stimulating medium that has the potential to make a great impact in their lives.

What do you think? Have any other great advice on how the spoken word community can "think of the children"?

posted on Friday, June 15, 2012 - 17:47 by chris

 Luna Allison and Lib Spry's fantastic solo play, Falling Open, is now playing at the Montreal Fringe Festival.

You can read LitLive's review of a previous production of it here.

This remount is at a Fringe Offsite Venue which appears to be someone's semi-basement apartment. It's a rare show that can be enhanced by such a makeshift venue, but for a story whose crux is sexual abuse, it does just that. The domestic setting is a constant, subtle, but poignant reminder of narrator's struggle; no matter where she goes, she'll never be too far from the site of the trauma.

Luna Allison's performance is as dynamic and crisp, her characterizations are as precise and vaired, and the direction as solid now as it was when LitLive first reviewed it last year. I particularly appreciate how despite the theme being full of tempting sentimental clichés, the treatment is always honest-sounding, fresh, and unexpected.

Despite the show moving along briskly --the narrative spans about 50 years in the one hour play-- there was one section that dragged. The final act has to do with the victim reclaiming her identity by revisiting her childhood home, the site of the chronic abuse. She is uncovering deeply buried memories of the incidents. The problem is, the fact that she has forgotten them is hardly known to us and never postulated as major conflict. We watch her discovering what we already know, and what we didn't know she'd forgotten. In my mind the re-empowerment had happened in the scene before when she shouts down a would-be attacker.

Even though the mechanism for epiphany was a little clunky, Allison's transformation from doll to grown, still damaged-but-healing woman is expertly accomplished. I highly recommend seeing it while you still can!


posted on Thursday, June 14, 2012 - 22:21 by chris

 In preparing the feature article for issue 5 about poets in schools across Canada, I reached out to expat Michelle Dabrowski in Melbourne with a few quick questions about her experiences facilitating workshops in Oz. She sent me back such thoughtful answers, but as it turned out I had very little room for them in the article. So, I thought I would share them here, along with a couple of other things. One of them is Michelle's contribution to the Poesie78 project. The other is her Pozible (like the Australian Kickstarter or IndieGoGo) campaign that she and poet Joel McKerrow are using to help fund their Canadian tour this summer. Michelle is a highly creative, bright yellow streak of a soul who lives to inspire through embodied poetry. Everyone who gets to see her perform this summer is a lucky camel.
Here is the link to their Pozible campaign. It ends on June 18th, Canada time, and if they don't get their entire goal, then they get nothing! Toss a buck in the hat!
And the text of my interview with her. Besides the fact that seeing how other countries support the arts, I'm especially intrigued to hear about where her inspiration comes from. Enjoy!

Can you tell me what you've been doing in schools/ community groups as far as workshops go?

The arts are well supported in Victoria both in an urban sense and regionally. In 2010 I was the recipient of the Arts Victoria, Artists in Schools grant which supported a project I did with Sean M Whelan with grade six students. This is when I was learning about Melbourne's inspiring Street Art scene and affirming my connection to the five elements of Hip Hop. The project supported ten weeks of funding in which we covered a whole range of topics in spoken word from writing in teams, the editing process, voice and movement work to performance skills with a strong focus on the history of oral storytelling and the links to hip hop and slam. In Victoria highschool starts in grade 7 so the graduating students are in grade 6 in primary school. I often things this tends to put more pressure and changes on the students at a younger age as opposed to the way it is in Canada. So this was a real safe way for them to explore their voice and identity as all these changes were about to occure. They also created text based installations from their poetry based on all they had learned about street art. We took them into the famous city laneways in Melbourne and tried to unveil the links between a poet's message and a street artists message in a political context and got them to reflect on who your audience is and how to reach them using the tools from both mediums. This culminated in a final live performance. There were students who wouldn't raise their hands in some of our first sessions-performing on stage with such confidence and passion by the end of the project. I remember the parents being so shocked at the deep ideas and wisdom of their children at the show. So quite transformative work. The fact that the state of Victoria's government has a grant scheme for artists across all artistic disciplines to go in and do this kind of work with school is just phenomenal.
Australian Poetry is another fantastic organization which supports and feuls the poetry movement in Melbourne. Although it supports the more literary focused poets it is based in The Wheeler Centre which is a building which houses quite a few literary/arts organizations and it is positioned right next to the beautiful State Library. I swear- the first time I walked into the libarary-that is the first time I felt at home in Melbourne. Emilie Zoey Baker is a poet who was working as the Education Officer at Australian Poetry in 2010/2011 when "The Super Poets" were born. This is a group of four poets including myself, Emilie, Ezra Bix and Sean M Whelan. Through the organization of Victoria's first ever Teen Poetry Slam, called 'Out Loud' and occuring at the end of August every year... the four of us have been enabled to visit schools and conduct workshops which will hopefully inspire the students to enter a team into the competition. We have a team piece which demonstrates to the students how fun writing and performing as a team can be. We then mentor the students up until the final competition in August. In 2011 we recieved a grant to do an extended residency up in a rural town called "Rutherglen" This is a town full of winery's so you can imagine how much fun we had after a long days work trying to get teenagers excited and emoting. We would go up every few weeks or so and stay for a couple of days to do intensive workshops, help them prepare for Outloud and help get their final year end show together. On some days we visit schools across Victoria as a team and some days we do it solo... it's an extremely exciting challenge visiting remote areas and trying to show the students this art form they know nothing about.
I am also a facilitator for the Centre for Poetics and Justice (founded by Joel McKerrow with whom I will be touring Canada this summer) which is an not for profit organization using spoken word poetry as a tool for social change within various communities across the country. I have had the opportunity to conduct workshops for young women in a youth justice centre, hospital wards, brain injury recovery programs and for the wider spoken word community in Melbourne. CPJ runs two double weekend workshops a year where poets in the community really dive deep into their practice. It's a wonderful time. Now that I have been doing this for a few years and really solidifying by understanding of running and competing in slams and the roots of oral storytelling traditions, along with my background in drama therapy, I have become very interested in heritage, lineage, biography and myths and how these elements are present and embodied in performance spoken word. So in January we ran for the first time a Biomythology workshop which gave beginner and seasoned poets a chance to look to their facets of identity for the tools to generate creative exploration in their writing.  
Because of all of these experiences I'm now able to continue exploring my facilitation styles and methods. I'm at a point now where I am starting an independent workshop series called "Open The Circle" sessions through the events I am running called "Slamalamadingdong."
How do these gigs come about?
These gigs came about as most work does, by putting yourself out there, performing anywhere I had the opportunity to, building professional relationships, being open and most of all listening. (To my peers, my mentors, my contemporaries, my inner voice.)
IS it difficult?
No. The reality is that if you work hard at what your heart is telling you to do you end up taking steps on the path to where you do your best work which serves your community and the world around you. I want to dispel the myths that this cannot be done or that being a artist means that you have to commit yourself to a life of poverty. I think it's also about being an entrepreneur and thinking outside the box. I choose to believe that as the world changes, in where we are heading, we might start to return to giving poetry back it's value. After all, the work I do and many of us do as poets is not in the curriculum and when you have seen how much students benefit from using the poet's tools in life and expressive vocal outreach- well I feel like someone has to teach this and pass on this ancient knowledge and if schools are not doing it and main stream culture is not doing it, it's our job. We are the modern day Shamans. I'm really aligned with Joseph Cambell's thinking that the equivelent of poet's in todays world, in elementary cultures are the Shamans. The Shaman is someone who has an experience which makes them turn totally inward. Then they use metaphors and images to bring this inner world to life. That is what I think young people need to be shown how to do. We stand on the shoulders of so many voices and stories that have come before us. Today we are the one's keeping the myths, stories and oral traditions alive.
Are you well paid for your time?
Compensation which comes from the arts grant funding bodies pays a decent wage. It is not full time work which occurs every day but it is a nice buffer to help the bills get paid. .
Is access to funds a big problem for thesee schools/groups?
I don't think access to the funds is a problem. Sometimes, the problem is getting the schools to understand all the benefits of having poet's come into their school. Sports and leisure are a big focus in Australia so those programs tend to get more attention. Having said that, there are many english and drama teachers who have become really passionate about using spoken word poetry and I have seen foot ball loving physical educations teachers remark how surprised they were at how much they enjoyed the final performances.  My favourite workshops are actually "Professional Development Days" for teachers where we spend the whole day showing them what we do. They walk in totally baffled and intimidated and they walk out beaming with strong vocal chords and a renewed sense of passion for words.
Where do you draw your lessons from?
I went to an Arts highschool and studied Theatre and Dance. Then I studied Poetry and Theatre Development at Concordia University. My lessons are a salad of the many techniques and performance/writing exercises which I have developed over the past eight years. They are influenced by all the artists and elders that have influenced me within the Canadian Poetry Community and my studies of many many teachers from Augusto Boal to Jerzy Grotowski to Anna Deveare Smith to Anne Bogart to Joseph Campbell. My overall platform for understanding the world is through the five elements of Hip Hop and I think it's important that every facilitator re-mix what came before them or what they have been influenced by in order to create their own exercises and foundations for teaching. It is important to put your own flavour on it and be original so that as a teacher you may develop your own theories. After eight years of doing so I am still evolving and discovering my methods. I have created many power points over the past three years which have become essential when going into schools because they really respond to the visual. all the other Super Poets call me "Clicker Girl" because I do love my power point clicker and delivering a very slick, entertaining and educational presentation that holds their attention and shakes up their world a bit. I love going into workshops after having developed a new plan that I have never done before, teaching it and then learning from that experience to become better after assesing what worked and what doesn't. The teacher is also the student.
What are you teaching them?
I teach according to what is appropriate for my audience. I always like to start with the basics, the history, ancient practices and then bring it into the modern in a way that the audience will be able to relate. Creating safe space is essential. I work in circles with shoes off. I put alot of focus on the body even when we are doing writing exercises because it get's people outside their heads. I also focus heavily on creating rituals that demonstrate how poetry is a gift and rituals that strengthen group dynamics aswell as acknowlege the inter-play between the audience and the performer. I am facilitating a process in which the students meets their own voice and identity in a new way which I hope creates self love and an understanding that we are all connected. Spoken word poetry is the vehicle and the destination is self-actualization. I hope that's not too grandiose and ethereal sounding.

posted on Friday, June 8, 2012 - 14:45 by chris


The cheap convention water bottles have imploded,
 crumpled as though their planes are bowing from the inside to applause. 
Spoons gallop and buck off their own dents
(this does, often, sound like an audience approving),
whisks skittish over the backsides of frying pans
fall laughing from balconies, are tossed back.
The children in pajamas (though it’s light out) or on shoulders 
have their pots to scale,
those tiny saucepans you only ever melt butter in.
The wooden soup spoons splinter when the clambers come.
The dogs are scared shitless, 
poor little guys.
Every beating thing  rises in and out of time with its own clumsy strength
In the crevices between rhythm
Slogans are slotted and picked up and dropped
allowing welcome moments of impostering
where it sounds like I speak fluently
because I can barely hear my own voice as something alone.
The police,
I try to remember,
are one of those pictures
made of thousands of tiny dots arranged in illusive patterns
that come with clear instructions
to stand very still
and focus through what you see
then back away 
with your eyes crossed and your hands up
until an image emerges:
 something dimensional,
worth being bullied by.
If you still see individual dots, you’re doing it wrong
The police,
designed somewhere between aphids and androids,
swarm the narrow piste
which joins fear to aggression 
that tract of emotion where territorial is born.
Their canisters are the urethras of the law, 
pissing pepper spray or smoke onto car tires or corner stores
hoping the traces will stick as discouragements
against the blocks they want for theirs.
But we don’t use our noses these nights
when we flow under the overpass
our noise becomes something solid 
(as sudden cold water can seem) 
tossing itself off the walls
rearing its rhino head
opening its rhino mouth around my ears,
a roaring, cascading beast
batting at the signs leaping up from broomsticks
that will go back
to sit in front halls till tomorrow, listening,
to see the coming and going of the good light, 
through evenings full of thunder fighting thunder.