6 May 2015

BRINGING THE PAGE TO THE STAGE: VERSES BOCAS POETRY SLAM 2015



Spoken word in particular is one of the most powerful forms of poetry today and each finalist of the  Verses Bocas Poetry Slam 2015 provide more than enough evidence of that. Due to its gripping presence throughout Trinidad and Tobago, particularly in the secondary schools it has become perhaps the latest literary trend amongst the Caribbean youth. 

The VERSES Bocas Poetry Slam is a national spoken word competition sponsored by First Citizens. Started on the University of the Southern Caribbean’s campus in 2012 by a group of driven, socially conscious young artistes known as the 2 Cents Movement, the support of the Bocas Lit Fest and sponsorship from First Citizens Bank has seen this event grow into a national showdown between the best local spoken word artists, competing for over TT$30,000 in prizes. Past winners include Crystal Skeete, who took the top prize in 2013 with the piece “Maxi Man Tracking School Gyal”, and Idrees Saleem, 2014 winner. Source.http://www.bocaslitfest.com/
Mi amiga, Annastacia and I arriving at the event.

In the company of finalist and superbly talented spoken word artist, Derron Sandy, for our interview. Derron, the tallest competing poet stands at 6ft 5inches.


Hijabi Fashionistas: Here's to our coordinated OOTD (Outfit of the Day). Kudos to all the well dressed folks  at Verses. There were so many!

For those newer to the art, Spoken word poetry is an art form where stage performance gives life to the authored words of written poems. It allows even the most ordinary of poems to transcend to a higher level of understanding and impact through dramatic presentation. With the use of body language and gestures alongside spot-on diction, inflection and intonation poets deliver a captivating message or story. All in all one thing's for sure, each poet's performance always injects new life into all whose ears their pieces have fallen on. From 129 auditioning poets and 2 riveting semi finals later, 13 finalist were eventually chosen to compete for the grand prize of $20,000.

Image Credit : The 2 Cents Movement

It's 6pm and the Globe Cinema theater is filling quickly. Young, old, men, women, children , local, foreigners. All are gathering to witness the biggest spoken word battle in Trinidad and Tobago. Local Rap genius and Hip Hop elite, Inzey Gabriel with Dopeskis Da Band are on stage. I'm relating to my friends how much his movements and consequently Inzey himself, reminds me of Kanye West. He is entertaining without even trying. A fresh wave of talent, the kid's outstanding on the mic.

Inzey
The hosts Vin and "Thaddy Boom" are comical. They introduce Marina Salandy-Brown, founder and director of The Bocas Lit Fest. Marina introduces each judge on the panel, which consists of various Caribbean nationalities. There is only one judge from Trinidad and Tobago. For a brief moment I wonder if the other judges would be able to understand some poets' messages on local contexts and if that would consequently affect the scoring process. I learn that the rubric (the areas the judges would score on) include: Voice and Articulation, Stage Presence/ Dramatic Appropriateness, Crowd Response, Time Management, Poetic Tools, Use of Language, Logical Coherence and Intellectual Value.

The hosts, Vin and Thaddy Boom.

 Noteworthy individuals present at the event include:
  • Olive Senior, a Jamaican poet, novelist, short story and non-fiction writer and winner of the 2015 OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature for Non-Fiction,
  •  Funso Aiyejina a Nigerian poet, short story writer, playwright, and Dean of my faculty-Humanities and Education, at the University of the West Indies. He is the winner of the 2000 Commonwealth Writers' Prize, Best First Book,
  • Saint Lucien poet Vladimir Lucien, winner of the 2015 OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature for Poetry. The OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature is a major award for literary books by Caribbean writers, where books may be entered in three categories: poetry, fiction, and literary non-fiction.

Marina Salandy-Brown, founder and director of The Bocas Lit Fest.

Opening the show was Michael Logie, National Secondary Schools Intercol Spoken Word Champion.

Finally, the poets take to the stage. Brandon O' Brien, twin brother of Brendon O' Brien (who is also a finalist) is the first poet to take the stage.

Brandon (left) and Brendon (right) O' Brien. | Image credit: The Underground TT


Thirteen finalists, but only three are female. Employing rhythm and rhyme they dazzle the crowd with audible aestheticism threaded throughout their pieces. Each poem is deliciously infused with descriptive details, grabbing the audience's attention with no intention of letting go. The audience goes wild constantly with each poet nailing down their respective stories in tone and with attitude. All the elements of good spoken word stage presence; enunciation, eye contact, projection, gestures and facial expressions are apparent in each poet's performance. All elements except for one.

Memorization. 

In an unfortunate twist of fate some poets fail to recall their lines. It's the last thing any poet would ever dare to happen to them on stage. The audience coaches on those who have forgotten, but in the end, it would seem that failing to recall poetic verses on the evening of the Finals would have its obvious consequences.
Ladies of the Finals. L-R: Leandra Williamson (youngest female), Ariana Herbert and Deneka Thomas.

Though some poets have blanked out briefly, others are on a rapid roll...their tongues rolling with rich poetic verses. Some of them transforming themselves into entirely different beings, letting the character take control of  their minds and souls. In one case, Chike Pilgrim formerly known as "Bukka Roots" transforms into various unconventional animals, one of them a lion with wings, taking the audience and himself to a higher level as his words are brought to life. This is what happens when your life is driven by passion. With every word uttered, every artist oozes raw energy and pain — not a self-centered pain but a pain for those around them who can’t see that character, integrity, and honesty. It’s easy to walk away from any Verses event with a higher respect for each poet — at least for the poets who truly believe in what they do and live to transform and inspire the lives of their audiences, not just perform to look good before others.

Chike Pilgrim. Totally enjoyed his performance. | Image credit: The Underground TT

Representing Queen's Royal Collage is Verne Titte. The youngest male spoken word artist at the Finals.

All pieces thoughtfully arrange a short story and despite the politically-charged nature of some pieces, every poet skillfully presents a clear (sometimes unclear) and thoughtful stance that ought to ring true with all of us. I’m not one to concern myself with political debates, but every spoken word piece which highlights politics in Trinidad and Tobago goes beyond that. At times there's a bit of mild "colorful language" but the truth remains that each piece strikes deep to the core, appealing to the inner somebody within all of us who have ever struggled with something in our lives. As each poet recounts his/her experiences their words are filled with wisdom for us all.

In the crowd: My friends and I seated to the far left. | Image credit: The Underground TT

Cross section of a packed Globe theater.  | Image credit: The Underground TT

Packed I tell you! | Image credit: The Underground TT
  The auditorium is hot, body heat or faulty AC unit, who knows, or better yet who cares?! It certainly isn't any match for the tremendous heat the poets bring once they're on the stage and begin to spit captivating, fiery verses. Each vividly exploring various experiences — many of which we might have shared with them in our own little ways. Some pieces are dark and depressing, other performances are full of inspiration and motivation. The message is clear: each spoken word artist has his or her own passions. Even if some messages come across as a bit corny and idealistic, one can still appreciate the way in which the poets' words are strung together to weave a mind blowing tale. Brilliant! 

Unapologetic and bravely breaching tough topics each poet digs into their pent up emotions and opinions that some might deem as unacceptable on a normal day. Peppering in real-life experiences, and whether the audience agrees or not, it is an in-your-face! evening.

In the end it would be the men who proved to dominate the night, copping first, second and third place. Akile Wallace emerged as the winner, and rightfully so, with his energetic, witty and entertaining piece on the plights of squatting. Derron Sandy placed second with his blazing hot revised version of Disney's "Frozen" and Klen McPherson, third with a creative piece encapsulating vivid, comical desires where in the end he falls off his bed, only to have been dreaming.

Akile Wallace. Verses Bocas Poetry Slam 2015 Winner. | Image credit: The Underground TT

Derron Sandy.

Kleon McPherson.
Defending his crown is Idrees Saleem, Verses Bocas Poetry Slam 2014 Winner.

Finalist on stage for a group photo. Akile Wallace (far left) holding his winning cheque of $20,000. Congrats!


 Idrees Saleem.
By the night's end everyone present is more than pleased that they are a part of an event so unbelievably grandeur. Even those who streamed the event online could attest to the greatness of the evening. Social media outlets are alive with praise for poets and the Verses Poetry Slam Event. It only gets better every year.

My takeaway from this event is that Spoken word is an amazing outlet for feelings, emotion, stories and each poet has a unique perspective and view of the world that no one else has. If you have even the slightest interest, give it a try! It is important that a spoken word poem embodies the courage necessary to share one’s self with the rest of the world and understand that as writers what we have to say is important. Myself as a Blogger, included. Apart from that Practice. Practice. Practice so you don't forget your verses!

Peace.
Nabs x