For the first time, the St. Albert Public Library is having its annual Teen Poetry Slam on a Friday night as a special after hours event. The host is the library’s own Geoff Manderscheid and the musical guest will be Del Suelo, the Saskatchewan-based artist, author and musician.
Those are the only confirmed details about the event. No other performers are announced beforehand.
“There never are,” Manderscheid said, admitting to knowing really no other details of what will take place in two days’ time. “I don’t and I never have. Except for Del Suelo. He’s going to be there.”
He does have the privilege of being behind the scenes so he is pretty sure that at least some of the performers set to show will include students from Bellerose High’s Slam Poetry Team, Paul Kane, Edmonton’s Harry Ainlay High School, and “one young up-and-comer” from Sir George Simpson Junior High.
“With them, there’s always an assortment of poets that might be the blood or the opening poet,” he says, offering another definition of the blood as the poet sacrifice. “They’re essential to any slam because they’re like the calibration point of showing the audience what being a slam poet is all about.”
Slam poetry is essentially a bare bones stage for a reader and a microphone. There are no props as there would be for a stage performance. There are no instruments or musical accompaniment. It’s one person and her or his voice at a time. There are usually 10 to a dozen poets reading at each event. After they read, then they get judged and points are awarded.
Audience members heckle the judges – Manderscheid admits to heckling some too – but all is kept in good humour and in a safe space for the performers to share often some very personal insights into themselves. He says that they stress respect for all because freedom of speech is what cultivates minds and talents.
“The whole aspect of the competition is not really about the points: it’s about the poetry. There’s the possibility for open and honest communication where you potentially could not be judged. None of these things are guaranteed in life, but we’re close to it. That’s what I like about the slam.”
Apart from those things, expect anything and everything else. Not even Manderscheid can predict who will step up to the microphone or what they will say but he knows with certainty that he loves the thrill of the unknown and something awesome will happen.
“I’ve been hosting open mics and slams for five years now, and I have learned to love the thrill of not knowing exactly what is going to happen. What I know for sure is that a good slam poet always possesses a remarkable ability to reveal something sincere and universal, something that ultimately resonates with someone out there in the audience. The audience, myself included, never know when a seemingly innocuous sentence or phrase is going to move them deeply,” he continued. “Then there is the whole competitive aspect of a slam. In the battle to win an audience’s adulation and respect, a poet will use everything in their experience to conjure up an inspiring win.”
Julia Sorensen is a seasoned veteran of such events and has since graduated on to the Edmonton Public Library’s adult slam set to occur on the same evening.
She won last year’s slam and is sad to miss out on the action this time around. She said that she has been writing poetry and performing for as long as she can remember. When she learned that Bellerose had a slam poetry club, she knew she had to sign up.
“Pretty much as soon as I got there, it was like, ‘okay, this is what I’m meant to do.’ Honestly, if I could perform poetry for the rest of my life, I would do that.”
Performing, she added, is not only physically taxing with its adrenalin rush and all but it’s also mentally difficult as well. She makes it sound like an Olympic gold medal sprint while baring your soul and playing a game of chess at the same time.
Now it makes sense why it’s called a slam. It must be quite a show to participate in and certainly will be just as fun for the people in the seats too.
Teen Poetry Slam V
With musical guest Del Suelo
Hosted by Geoff Manderscheid
Attendance is free but please reserve your seat in advance.
Friday, April 21 from 7 to 9 p.m.
St. Albert Public Library
5 St. Anne St. (in St. Albert Place)
Call 780-459-1530 or visit www.sapl.ca for more.
If you are interested in performing, please call 780-418-6621 for more information.