Every once in a while Cytopoetics Events will provide a space for its editor-in-chief Greg Frankson to share perspectives and thoughts on poetry-related issues relevant to the GTA community. Today, Ritallin discusses what it takes to make it as a full-time spoken word artist:
Recently I’ve had a few inquiries about the nature of my occupation.
You see, for the past two years I have been working through Cytopoetics as a full-time independent contractor. I am available for hire for all manner of creative service — facilitating and emceeing events, leading workshops, performing, speaking and the like. This work takes me across Canada and, occasionally, south of the border. In fact, at this very moment I am writing this post from Regina where I am a headline artist for the Cathedral Village Arts Festival.
I love what I do. I don’t consider it to be a job. To me, a job involves punching in and out somewhere, with a boss and an HR department and all the fixin’s associated with a 21st century workplace.
I used to have a job. When I walked away from it in the spring of 2011 there were many who thought I was crazy. And I was, at least partially. The job was literally making me sick, and so I decided there had to be a better way. So I left Ottawa, moved to Toronto, put out my proverbial sandwich board, and the rest is history.
However, as Dwayne Morgan often says, this is not a career path I would recommend to others. In the first instance, I didn’t just walk away from the federal bureaucracy and suddenly become an artist. I’d been doing it for eight years already, was well-known in spoken word circles, had produced merch and won funding grants from all three levels of government. I was a past National Director of Spoken Word Canada and had founded two spoken word series that continue to run in Ottawa to this day.
In short, I’d paid my dues and put in a ton of work to get to the point where leaving my job was even an (unattractive yet remotely doable) option. My first year in Toronto was hell, the transition bumpy, the money non-existent. Without support from others I wouldn’t have survived that first year and I’d be behind a desk someplace by now. No one succeeds without the village. (Thank you, village, for everything). So when I came out the other end and the nine years of hard work, hustling, networking, free gigs for exposure, stress and sleepless nights started to come back to me, the possibility of being a full-time artistic person finally transitioned into a sustainable reality.
There’s a reason why there’s only a handful of full-time spoken word artists in our country. There’s not enough support, gigs and opportunity for any more than about a dozen or so of us across this massive, sparsely populated icebox we call Canada. None of us makes a living exclusively doing poetry feature gigs at shows and festivals. All of us do other things — speaking engagements, music and events management tend to be high on the list — in order to make ends meet. Everyone who does it has been a stage performer for at least a decade. In short, it’s not a path for the faint of heart, the flakey of disposition or the weak of stomach.
I have succeeded by doing things no one else wanted to do, working harder than others at things others also wanted to do, believing in my own talent while realizing others with more of it work less than I do, some lucky bounces and the support of friends and colleagues who realized my passion was real.
If you want some of this, come get it. But be prepared. It’s work. Hard work. It doesn’t happen overnight. And the rest of us who are already full-time independent contractors rooted in spoken word aren’t going anywhere.
Greg “Ritallin” Frankson is a spoken word artist/organizer and Creative Director of Cytopoetics.
It’s a long weekend, and to be honest with you folks, that’s part of the reason this post is going up a day late. I have been travelling a lot this spring, and yesterday was no different. After touching down in Regina, I spent the middle day of the Victoria Day weekend out of sorts. So now that I’ve had some proper rest, let me get you up to speed on what’s going down over the next seven days in the world of spoken word and poetry slam in the Greater Toronto Area:
The organizers of R.I.S.E. Poetry will be holding a special Victoria Day show in the great outdoors at Burrows Hall Community Centre (1081 Progress Ave. at Sheppard) from 6:30-9:30pm. Bring a picnic basket or lawn chair with you as the city’s largest spoken word focused open mic holds court under the setting sun. Admission is free.
The Toronto Poetry Project presents a free performance poetry workshop with Chicago poet Alvin Lau at the Tranzac (292 Brunswick Ave. at Bloor), with doors at 7pm. Bring your most highly polished pieces and prepare to learn what the best do to make their performances the best they can be! Workshop begins at 7:30pm.
Acoustic Soul Tuesdays returns for its second May show at Red Parrot (685 Lansdowne Ave. at Bloor) with its mix of live music, spins by DJ Black Lotus, and open mic vocalists working together to create the overall experience. Drink specials and $5 dinner menu available. Doors at 7pm with showtime at 8pm. Admission is $5 at the door.
Members Only has been advertised as “the most fun you can have in public with your clothes on!” The only way to find out is to go to Lula Lounge (1585 Dundas St. W.) to see Dwayne Morgan with a band and surprise guests in a night of erotic poetry. Advance ticket and dinner reservation info can be found on the FB invite. $25 at the door.
Myna Wallin, Kate Cayley and Child of Life bring their work to the Art Bar inside Q Space (382 College St.) at 8pm. The country’s oldest poetry-only series also encourages people to bring their own poems to share on the open mic. Admission to the event is free but organizers do pass the hat.
The penultimate slam finals in the GTA goes down in a new venue, the Falcon and Firkin (10300 Yonge St. in Richmond Hill). YorkSlam Finals featuring Alvin Lau will select York Region’s second group of representatives in provincial and national championships when doors open at 7:30pm for the 8pm show. Admission is $5 at the door.
We Flip Tables holds its Slam Finals with host PrufRock and featuring Alvin Lau at the Promenade Gallery (943B Lakeshore Rd. E. in Mississauga). This is the last of the teams from GTA to be formed, and the show promises to be a barnburner! Doors/bar open at 6:30pm with showtime at 7:30pm. $5 at the door.
Six Womyn of Indigo will combine poetry with music in a special show at The Magic Oven Resto-Bar (360 Queen St. E.). Hear the artistry of Enuma, Aria Zenua, Lilly Mason, Dara Njeri, Carissa Baron and Whitney French at 8pm. Admission is $10 at the door.
The weekly Sunday Poetry at Ellington’s (805 St. Clair Ave. W. near Oakwood) brings together the poetically and activist minded for a session of poetry and consciousness raising from 11:30am to 2:30pm. Poets are encouraged to bring work to share on the open mic. Admission to the event is, as always, free.
This month’s edition of Plasticine Poetry, hosted by Cathy Petch, features the poetry of Clara Blackwood, David Day, Daniel Tysdal and Marnie Van Dyk along with an opportunity for poets in attendance to share their words on the open mic. Admission to the event at Pauper’s Pub (539 Bloor St. W. at Bathurst) is free.
Over at The Central (603 Markham St. in Mirvish Village), The Underdog Poets Academy brings together new voices with an established one in an evening of artistic sharing. Playwright Katie Alguire features and writers will be sharing their work on the open mic. The event runs from 7:30-9:30pm. Admission is free.
The Toronto Poetry Slam returns, featuring 2010 national slam champion Prufrock from Ottawa at the Drake Hotel Underground (1150 Queen St. W.). As always, the doors open at 7pm, with sign-up for the slam and open mic at 7:30pm and showtime at 8pm. Admission is $5 at the door.
As the unofficial first long weekend of summer comes to an end, it’s a great time to get out and see what the city has to offer. With the warmer days and milder nights, it’s a great time to go out people watching, get some fresh air, get more active after the winter’s hibernation, and feed your brain. Yes, feed it. Come to a poetry show and fill up on the good stuff. I know you wanna. Let’s keep the poetry poppin’!
by Sabrina Benaim
Hellooo poetry people!
Today is a wonderful day.
Do you have any memories that you could transport yourself back into in a flash? Place yourself back into the internal picture you took of your body and look out your eyes, in déjà-vu spectacular, seeing the people and your surroundings, feeling every hair on your body rising the way it did the first time you experienced it?
Whenever something wonderful happens to me, I wonder if it will be so wonderful to have the power to bring me back to it someday.
A day I am walking down a busy street, minding my own business, when suddenly I can feel the Tennessee sun burning my pale skin, and I can hear a twangy guitar, and I can see the girl standing in front of me in a black dress and a sick rib tattoo.
On the subway home from work, instead one day I was back in a San Francisco hotel room with my dad, on our trip down the coast of California and we were watching The Golden Girls, both laughing so hard at the same parts, eating chocolate bars we got from the vending machine.
Our memory is incredible.
The poets featured in this week’s Playlist can bring us back to the moment they’ve created from feeling and have the power to allow us to ride that wave of feelings. Or they revisit multiple moments and tidal wave us with the string of truths that hang around them, holding them together. They are pretty freakin’ awesome poets.
Just like today. Today is pretty awesome, too.
All audio / video submissions can be sent to: events [at] cytopoetics [dot] com.
The Playlist – Ride the Wave
1. I forget to breathe when I listen to this poem:
Rachel McKibbens – Central Park, Mother’s Day
2. Lily Myers – Shrinking Women
3. Team Richmond – BNV Finals
4. Wes Ryan – Calendar
Sabrina Benaim is the Lead Contributor to the Cytopoetics Events blog.
Happy Mother’s Day to all the women out there who have brought beautiful children into the world! On a day dedicated to the celebration of motherhood, it seems appropriate for this week’s synapsis of poetry to be overflowing with creation. This is a very busy week in the world of GTA spoken word and poetry slam, so after you honour the mothers in your life, make a plan to be part of all the action coming up over the next seven days. Here’s what’s up:
At the Burrows Hall Community Centre in Scarborough (1081 Progress Ave. at Sheppard), the R.I.S.E. Poetry gang are putting on their weekly event. From 6:30-9:30pm, the region’s biggest weekly poetry-focused open mic will see local poets, emcees and singers share their work. Admission is free.
Toronto Poetry Project presents Merch Madness Finals Show at Supermarket (268 Augusta Ave. in Kensington Market). A group of artists vie for the $1000 top prize and $500 second prize to assist with the creation of merch! Feature set by Ian Keteku and celeb judge panel anchored by Canadian Idol judge Jake Gold. Doors 7:30pm with showtime at 8pm. Admission is free.
Acoustic Soul Tuesdays returns for another edition of open mic poetry with live music at Passione Sports Bar (685 Lansdowne Ave. at Bloor). Spins by DJ Black Lotus. Doors open at 7pm with showtime at 8pm. Positive and uplifting poets, singers and emcees are invited to hit the mic. Admission is $5 at the door.
Comics and poets grace the mic at Cometry Poedy inside The Central (603 Markham St. in Mirvish Village). A strong list of performers headlined by comedian/rapper Paul Thompson. Hosted by Anto Chan and Vei Chong. Doors at 7:30pm, show from 8-9:30pm. Admission is PWYC.
The EW Reading Series brings together Ben Gallagher, Chris Graham, Victoria Hetherington and Liz Howard in a showcase of emerging writers at Duffy’s Tavern (1238 Bloor St. W., near the Emerson entrance of Lansdowne Station). Showtime is 8pm. Admission is PWYC.
Over at Q Space (382 College St.), Iris Liu, Jessica Bebenek and Emilee Nimetz feature at the Art Bar beginning at 8pm. Poets who want to share their work can bring poems for the open mic. Admission is free but organizers do pass the hat.
Dwayne Morgan will be inducted to the Scarborough Walk of Fame at 11am inside the Scarborough Town Centre where he will perform a special set for the occasion. He also hosts a celebratory gathering from 6-9pm at Milestones beside the mall for supporters, colleagues and friends. Both events are free. Congratulations Dwayne!
The third of three Toronto slam teams will be selected at Bill Brown’s 1-2-3 Slam Finals featuring standout Chicago slam pro Alvin Lau at Q Space (382 College St.). Doors open at 7:30 with at 8pm. Top five poets will represent the city at the Ontario and Canadian slam championships! Admission is $10 with proceeds going to the team’s travel fund.
Scarborough Arts hosts the Big Art Book 2013 Launch Party at AccessPoint (3079 Danforth Ave.) from 6-8pm. Over 130 artists are featured in this online digital anthology of written and visual art, including several spoken word artists. Admission is free.
Halton Region gets a 2013 slam team of its own at the Burlington Slam Project Finals featuring Alvin Lau at the Black Bull Pub (1124 Guelph Line). The team will defend its provincial title at SLAMtario this July and travel to nationals in Montreal in November. Hosted by Dwayne Morgan. Doors and open mic sign-up 8pm. Admission is $5 at the door.
Sterling Studio presents Ripped Wide Open Mic hosted by Kyle Labine and Hamza Fouad at the Sterling Studio Theatre (163 Sterling Rd.). The open mic is oriented towards spoken word poetry but acoustic instruments are welcome (no amplification is available). Doors and sign-up at 8pm. Admission is $5 at the door.
Over at the Black Swan Tavern (154 Danforth Ave. at Broadview), Hot-Sauced Words features Lara Bozabalian and Norman Allan with showtime at 8pm. Open mic sign-up begins at 7:30pm. There will also be an On-The-Spot Poetry Themed Challenge as per usual. Admission is free but organizers do pass the hat.
Q Space is a popular spot this week, as the Art Show Party and Poetry Salon featuring Laura Rock, Nik Beat and music by Joani Paige. Bring poems to share on the open mic, which will be sprinkled throughout the evening. Light refreshments will be served and cash bar will be available. This free party runs from 8pm onward.
SPEAKout Poetry’s Open Mic Night moves downtown this month to Beit Zatoun House (612 Markham St. in Mirvish Village). Read the FB invite if you plan to share poems on the mic. Sign-up begins at 7pm, and each poet has time to perform twice. Admission is $5 at the door.
Longtime Toronto spoken word stalwart Valentino Assenza features at Makin’ A Racket at the Rocket at Red Rocket Café (1364 Danforth Ave. east of Greenwood). This new event begins at 7:30pm and is hosted by Sandra Cardinal. There’s also an open mic segment for those who want to share their words. Admission is free.
Join in on the R.I.S.E Feeding The Homeless by meeting with the organizers at Capitano’s Burger & Gelato (645 Yonge St.) at 2:00pm. Please bring fruits, snacks or clothing to give away, as the group gives back to the community. That’s real poetry!
The weekly Sunday Poetry at Ellington’s (805 St. Clair Ave. W. near Oakwood) brings conscious writing to the local community. Writers are encouraged to bring their work to share on the open mic. The event runs from 11:30am to 2:30pm. Admission, as always, is free.
I had to take a breath after writing all that out … as I said, it’s a big week and there’s a ton of stuff for you to check out. So get yourself together, make a plan, and we’ll see you at a show. It’s a sprint into the Victoria Day long weekend, so lace up and get moving! Let’s keep the poetry poppin’!
by Sabrina Benaim
Holla poetry homies!
This week I’ma get real with y’all.
Lately, a number of people have asked me why I started writing poetry.
Each answer I gave was more cringe inducing than the last, as I tried to find a few obscure, interesting, touching moments in my life that would make me seem really deep and wise.
Here’s the truth: I started writing poetry because I started liking boys.
Unfortunately, it really is that simple and cliché. You now see why I was trying to fabricate something a little more abstract.
It was the eighth grade, and he had this tuxedo mask sparkle in his eye. I was starting to feel many feelings, which I personally thought were pretty stupid and assumed if they were to be shared, I might be thought pretty stupid. However, it became increasing difficult to hold them in. One day after school, when I thought I might finally explode, I bought a notebook and wrote them down.
Boom. Best impulse I’ve ever had.
Over the years, my notebooks became less about my feelings and more about my observations on them. They became stories my friends would tell me, or recounts of conversations I had with people. I became the fly on the wall of my life.
The more I fell in love with the world, the more inspired my observations. The more I learned how to love people, the more lessons I wanted to write down and remember.
When I found my heart — the epicenter of my pulsing thirst for fuel — I sent the fly to sit on its wall.
That is when I started writing the poetry people are asking me about. So, I suppose in a way the true answer to their question is:
I started writing poetry because I had poetry inside of me.
The poets featured in this week’s Playlist have poetry inside of them. It is radiating out of them, beams of truth twisted with rhythm. They are gladiators of the soul’s voice. This week, I urge you watch these and then turn the table on yourself and go inside for a few minutes. Find your poetry.
It’s May. I expect it will be in full bloom.
All audio / video submissions can be sent to: events [at] cytopoetics [dot] com.
The Playlist, Week 22 – Full Bloom
1. Jay Davis
2. Ian Keteku – Right Side Up
3. Laura Lamb Brown-Lavoie – Ars Poetica
4. Mary Anne Rojas – Kyle
Sabrina Benaim is the Lead Contributor to the Cytopoetics Events blog.
This week has quite a bit more left to offer as Sunday’s weekly synapsis of poetry will show you. But for the two weeks after that, there will be a foursome of fabulous slam finals to select the remaining teams in the Greater Toronto Area who will travel to Montreal for the Canadian Festival of Spoken Word this fall. All four shows are part of the Southwestern Ontario Spoken Word Circuit, and all four shows will feature the über-talented Alvin Lau from Chicago.
On Wednesday, May 15, Bill Brown’s 1-2-3 Slam brings together fans of the form in downtown Toronto. Eight finalists duke it out for one of the five slots on this year’s BB123 Slam Team. The show takes place at Q Space (382 College St.) and will be hosted by Amanda Hiebert. Doors open at 7:30pm with showtime at 8pm. The $10 cover will be contributed towards fundraising for the team’s trip to Montreal this fall.
The next evening on May 16, the scene shifts west for the Burlington Slam Project Finals at the Black Bull Pub (1124 Guelph Line). After the open mic, ten poets will compete for spots on last year’s Ontario provincial slam championship team. Doors and open mic sign-up begin at 8pm. 2012 national slam champ Dwayne Morgan hosts. Admission is $5 at the door.
On the following Wednesday, May 22, north of the city we go for the YorkSlam Finals, featuring eight of the most talented poets to ever hit the mic north of Steeles Avenue. That show takes place at Archibald’s Pub (8950 Yonge St. in Richmond HIll) with doors opening at 7:30pm. Local legend-in-the-making Karen Au hosts. Admission is $5 at the door.
Finally, the journey wraps up in The Town That Hazel Built when We Flip Tables holds its slam finals at the Promenade Gallery (943B Lakeshore Rd. E. in Mississauga) on May 23, hosted by 2010 national slam champion PrufRock Shadowrunner. Doors and bar open at 6:30pm with showtime at 7:30pm.
All four teams selected this month will be participating in the second annual SLAMtario 2013 Spoken Word Festival in Toronto on July 12-13 and CFSW 2013 Montreal on November 5-9. Invitations for the SLAMtario prelim slams and Finals Night are already available. The grand slam champions from each series will also receive an invitation to compete in the Toronto Slam Champions’ Cup on October 3, where a local “slam champion of champions” will be crowned.
In the meantime, don’t miss these fantastic poetry slam finals events when they come to a poetry venue near you over the next two weeks. These are some of the very best the local GTA community has to offer. Come out and support!
Moving right along … the cold winter and the unnaturally cool spring have finally yielded to patios, sunshine and many other unmistakable indications that summer, finally, is just around the corner. In some ways, it makes us want to break out and be in nature. But truly, what could be more natural for the beautiful, educated and intriguing humans you must be than checking out Toronto’s spoken word and poetry slam scene? After all, you’re reading this blog, which puts you among the best informed participants in the local arts scene. Why should I keep you a moment longer from finding out what you need to know for this week, you ask? Well, I shouldn’t! So here it is:
The Mississauga Arts Council presents the Rebel Talent Show where youth will showcase their talent in support of positive mental health. The show is at the Noel Ryan Auditorium in the Mississauga Central Library (301 Burnhamthorpe Rd. W.) at 6pm. Admission is free.
This week R.I.S.E. Open Mic brings together poets, emcees and singers at the largest weekly spoken word focused open mic event in the GTA. This free event on the theme of faith takes place at the Burrows Hall Community Centre (1081 Progress Ave. at Sheppard) from 6:30-9:30pm. Featuring New York poet Sean B.
This week, the dean of Toronto poetry series, the Art Bar Poetry Series, presents Sue Goyette, Jacob McArthur Mooney and John Terpstra at Q Space (382 College St.). Showtime is 8pm. Poets are encouraged to bring work to share on the open mic. Admission is free but organizers do pass the hat.
BAM! Toronto Youth Poetry Slam holds its May show at The Central (603 Markham St. in Mirvish Village) featuring the words of Sean B. Doors open at 5:30pm with open mic and slam sign-up at 6pm and showtime at 6:30pm. Hosted by Patrick de Belen. Admission is $5 at the door.
Brockton Writers Series presents its monthly show at Full of Beans Coffee House & Roastery (1348 Dundas St. W.), with a visit from Ontario Arts Council Literature Officer Michael Schellenberg talking about grants at 6:30pm, followed by poetry by Andy Sinclair, Mahlikah Awe:ri, Elizabeth Ruth and Moez Surani. PWYC ($3-$5 suggested).
Over at Glad Day Bookshop (598 Yonge St. at Wellesley), The Beautiful & The Damned goes down, hosted by Philip Cairns with poetry by Edward Nixon and Peter Lynch, plus music by Ori Dagan. Open mic sign-up begins at 7pm. PWYC.
Over on The Danforth, the Inkslingers Insider Poetry Night combines writing, crafting and sharing your work with others who give constructive feedback and support. Check out the FB invite for more specific information. The event begins at 7pm at the Black Swan Tavern (154 Danforth Ave. at Broadview). Admission is free but organizers do pass the hat.
The wind in the leaves collective presents an evening of music, poetry, drama and dance with allies and friends at Arraymusic (155 Walnut Ave., 2nd floor) from 8-9:30pm. The evening will feature the poetry of Sheniz Janmohamed, Patrick John Timothy Connors, Charles C. Smith and more! Doors open at 7:30pm. Admission is $15, or $10 for students and the underemployed.
Impossible Words welcomes Lillian Allen and Robert Priest, two of Canada’s most celebrated spoken word artists, to the Academy of the Impossible (231 Wallace Ave.) alongside Irfan Ali and Caleb Trudeau, two young writers from the Toronto Street Writers. The event begins at 1:30pm. Admission is free.
The weekly Sunday Poetry at Ellington’s (805 St. Clair Ave. W. near Oakwood) brings together socially conscious artists to share their words on the open mic in a warm and supportive environment. The event runs from 11:30am to 2:30pm. Bring your poems with you. Admission is free.
Spoke N’ Heard presents Motherland at House of Moments (386 Carlaw Ave.). The showcase, part of the Evolution in Consciousness series, is also SNH’s second anniversary event. Local artists dressed in traditional apparel will share their art and stories about the cultures with which they identify. Doors at 6:30pm. Admission is $10 at the door.
The community returns to Q Space for Lizzie Violet’s Cabaret Noir featuring Vanessa McGowan, Kirsten Sandwich and Cathy Petch beginning at 7pm with an open mic sign-up. Poetry, music and vaudeville come together in one of the most unique shows on the calendar. PWYC ($5 suggested).
The Toronto Poetry Project presents the Annual TPS Anything Goes Slam at The Drake Hotel in the Underground (1150 Queen St. W.). The only things you can’t do are wantonly destroy the place or exceed the usual 3-minute timeframe. Otherwise, go to town! Featuring improv comedian Peter Stevens and hosted by Lara Bozabalian. Doors 7pm, sign-up 7:30pm, show 8pm. Admission is $5 at the door.
Just like the cherry blossoms in High Park, poetry is exploding all over this city. Find yourself a good perch from which to take it all in, order a tasty beverage and/or munchable, and let the poetry wash over you. We are fortunate people, we are, to have such a talented group of poets who call the GTA home. Get out there and support them, watch them do their thing, and/or be inspired to take it up yourself. There is never too much of a good thing when it comes to Toronto spoken word. Let’s keep the poetry poppin’!