If you have ever wanted to understand what spoken word is truly about, you will get the chance to see The Burlington Slam Project up close and personal when their new season begins. They will be at the Lyric Theatre in Hamilton on October 16th. Spoken word is not your English class poetry. These words have a different type of attitude and depth. It can be fun or it can be emotional. It is an outlet for many to open up about their innermost thoughts. Tomy Bewick is the founder and Slam Master of The BSP. The BSP was founded back in 2008 when Tomy moved to Burlington from Toronto. He met up with fellow slammer, Selina Jane Eckersall and they established the project. Tomy and Selina were used to crowds of 100 or more turning out for slams in Toronto. It turned out to be a lot more work to attract crowds in the Hamilton/ Burlington area. Although Selina is no longer a part of The BSP, with the help of volunteers, the group has steadily grown and has found its following. They have worked with major names in the spoken word community including Shane Koyczan who achieved international fame when he performed at the Vancouver Olympic opening ceremony. In just 4 years, The Burlington Slam Project is now Provincial Champions and will be at The Canadian Festival of Spoken Word this month.
Tomy first started writing poetry on his own when he was going through some intense personal issues. He shared his work with someone who began to encourage what he was doing and that is when he began to recite his poetry for audiences. “I am a recovering alcoholic. I have done my fair share of drugs. [My] relationship had just ended. I was cleaning up. I was suffocating my past with drugs. I got some clarity of mind [and] I shared it with someone. [They said] ‘You got something there’ otherwise I would have just kept it to myself. I was trying to heal and I shared.”
After writing and going to open mic’s, Tomy was ready to take his poetry to the next level. “I would say spoken word is the art form; artistic talking. It could be a rant a rap a run on sentence. Slam is the competition. Slam is the competitive format that pushes people. There is actual acknowledgement, validation and reward.” Nea Reid, organizer and producer at The BSP explains that an actual slam is a very professional event that abides by rules and regulations like a competitive sport. “Every poet gets 3 minutes and a 10 second leeway and for every extra 5 seconds over, a .5 deduction. If you use a prop that’s another deduction... the timer starts the moment you engage the audience. If you do a back flip or smile and say hi, the timer is on.” You are judged by 5 random audience members that are chosen at the beginning of the show. Points are 0–10. “Anything under a 5 should have made you quiver and give you nightmares and a 10 gave you the best sex of your life made you dinner made you laugh ran you a bath and gave you a massage.” But don’t worry. Nea says that most contestants don’t score below a 5 but even if you do, you just have to grow a thick skin. Poets often speak about traumatic and taboo topics such as abuse. Nea says if someone gives you a low score for speaking your own truth, “it will hurt but you get used to it.” Tomy stresses that slam competitions aren’t really about the winners. “Slam doesn’t help us be better people because we win. [It’s about] 12 people that pick themselves up and ask what can I do to be better, putting ourselves back together. Competition forces you to come to terms with ‘do I care about what everyone thinks?’”
As a seasoned poet, Tomy knows what it takes to win. You can go to a slam to try to win or you can just say what is on your mind. It can either be a very calculated poem to move the judges or it can be something straight from your soul. “... I have heard the best poet always loses because slam isn’t just poetry. It is performance; power of the people. Every slam is different and has a different demographic and diversity. One slam I go to, content always wins. Another one, humour always wins... different demographic. They both recognize quality and you kind of know how to win at both of those places.” Going out to a Burlington Slam, you have a good chance of seeing some members of the National Team perform. Nea has nothing but praise for her team. “Truth IS...she is a poetic monster. I’ve never seen anyone be able to memorize a bible of poetry [like her]. Matt Miller, comedian je ne sais quoi from Mississauga slam... P.O.E (Poetically Organized Entitiy) is from Hamilton, hardcore MC performer. He will create his own legend as he goes. Dan Murray, one of the newest members. He’s a great example of power of poetry and how it can transform someone’s life. Tomy Bewick [is the] veteran team coach, very passionate.
Tomy encourages people that are interested in slam to see a show to fully understand what it is about. “Come out and check it out. Observe, watch and listen. It’s not for everyone but the people who like it love it.”
For more information visit www.burlingtonslam.wordpress.com V