September 21, 2014

Forewords 2014: Perspective #1

by Eva Rodrigues

To paraphrase Steve Locke, the poets at Thin Air’s ForeWords event “seized the [night] with their teeth,” leaving the audience enraptured.
Four members of the Winnipeg Poetry Slam team - Steve Locke, Ulysses Knope, Steve Currie, and Mike Johnston - performed both time-honoured and newer pieces. 
Locke started with a poem celebrating our city, encouraging the audience to join in on the motif “Hail Winnipeg!” With the crowd warmed up, he performed “Long Live The King,” a reflection on humanity as a sum of parts and individuals as part of the sum.
Knope then presented two poems, one about “pop up puberty” and her classic “A Touch Deathly.”
The third performer was Currie, who discussed love in the face of apocalypse and the sensual potential of space - “you carrying our child, never feeling her weight but only her heartbeat” - and performed a piece about a “bully 2.0.”
Johnston wrapped up the slam team’s performance, wowing the audience with both of his pieces. In “Brunch,” he contemplates the radically changing face of the Catholic Church with Pope Francis at its helm - “they are telling him that communion wafers should be organic kale chips and he is listening.” The final poem of the set was “Question Box,” where Johnston talked about his day job taking a “beautiful complexity ... to a multiple choice questionnaire” while teaching human sexuality.
The team is in top shape heading into the Canadian Festival of Spoken Word, taking place in Victoria October 13-18 ( They will certainly make Winnipeg proud of, and the rest of the country dazzled by, their work.
We then headed into the asterisk world* of the history of the English language with Tom Howell. Howell read from a section of his book, The Rude Story of English, that detailed the life of Hengest, the accidental inventor of English. He explored the ratio of piggybacks given and taken by Hengest and his twin brother while a larger-than-life drawing of the twins loomed over his head.
All five performers then shared the stage in the Haiku Death Match, an energetic one-on-one exchange of seventeen-syllable doses of puns, innuendos, and the occasional insult. After each round, the writers rotated. This was fantastic for getting the crowd involved in the performance as each round ended in an audience vote for the better haiku. 
Howell and Johnston surfaced as the Haiku Death Match co-winners, accepting the honour with a desperate attempt at a co-written haiku speech. It was an evening brimming with excellent poetry, stellar stories, and a camaraderie that shone through right to the end of the death match.
*The asterisk world, as Howell explained, is the world in which “facts” are made up to account for gaps in knowledge. This note is an exception. 

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