David Silverberg

Performance poet David Silverberg straddles the divide between the page and the stage. He’s the author of Bags of Wires, published by LyricalMyrical Press, and he edited Canada’s first spoken word anthology, Mic Check, published by Quattro Press. While he’s currently being kept busy as the organizer of the 2011 Canadian Festival of Spoken Word, based this year in Toronto, Silverberg is looking forward to a spoken word CD recording project and a tour in the near future.


A professional journalist, Silverberg first cut his literary teeth on Toronto’s downtown poetry scene when he was studying journalism at Ryerson University. “I started going to the Idler Pub reading series and the Art Bar reading series, and got exposed to some really great talent. That gave me the idea to start my own series in North York, Ontario, a suburb north of downtown Toronto. I called it Suburban Spoken Word. It was a reading series where I featured not only spoken word poets, but fiction authors such as Andrew Pyper and more experimental poets such as Christian Bök, and sometimes comedians and sometimes Fringe show artists as well. So it was pretty eclectic, it didn’t just stick to spoken word but hopefully exposed North York audiences to something they didn’t usually see.”


Silverberg became involved with the Canadian slam scene when he led Toronto’s slam team to the first Canadian Wordlympics festival in Ottawa in 2004. “We had to wrangle a team, because we didn’t really have a slam to get a team. And once we were there and I was talking to people such as Drek Daa and Dwayne Morgan ... I thought I would take it upon myself to get a monthly series going. I was getting a nice following from Suburban Spoken Word and getting a name for myself as someone who hosted shows. So I thought, why not start it off? And it got me thinking that the spoken word poets in this city were looking for something like this, looking for an outlet that was beyond the open mics after a poetry show. I think its been a huge success since we began it over five years ago.”


He may be Toronto’s chief promoter and enthusiast of the slam poetry form, but Silverberg  prefers to call himself a spoken word poet rather than a slam poet. “I don’t really compete in slam too much – my work doesn’t generally score high in slams for some reason. But I’m very involved in going to schools during the school year to bring poetry to classrooms, both as a performer and in a workshop capacity. I’m a regular at Word on the Street here in Toronto whenever that comes around, as well as sometimes performing at Harbourfront and at libraries. So I would say I’m a spoken word poet.”


Silverberg’s keen interest in poetry of all forms is evidenced in the wealth of knowledge he’s developed on the relationship between page versus stage poets, the growing touring networks forming across Canada via the slams, and the range of performance he’s encountered in the Toronto milieu. “At a poetry slam, there is still interesting experimentation people are doing without the use of props and costumes. A poet by the name of Electric Jon here in Toronto blends samples into his poetry, from a Johnny Cash tune to the movie Evil Dead to a G.I. Joe cartoon line – he’s able to sample all of that into a spoken word show while flying around from one end of the stage to the other to make it so theatrical and so high energy that you almost forget that there are rules in play. On the other side, in spoken word in general, and I can even use Moe Clark as an example, people [are] experimenting with music, beyond the slam stage when they have their own solo shows or feature appearances. I’m seeing poets experimenting with beatboxing here in Toronto, since there’s a pretty lively hip hop scene, and some poets are finding fellow beatboxers to accompany them on some spoken word tracks that they perform live or on albums. Beyond that, we’re sometimes seeing movement being incorporated into spoken word, whether its through some form of dance involved with their piece, or working on a team piece with another poet, and using movement as a way to convey a certain message. I would have to credit poetry groups like The Fugitives and Shane Koyczan’s TOFU for inspiring a lot of poets to start bands that involve spoken word and music, as we see with Ravensara, as we see with a few other shows in Toronto and outside Toronto, where people realize that in order to get gigs with [folk] festivals such as Mariposa or Hillside, they might need to incorporate music so that they’re not just straight spoken word.”