Hidden away behind a yellow door, deep in a basement of brick and mortar, McGill held its first poetry slam of the semester. Hosted at The Yellow Door, McSway Poetry Collective, is a student-run group that regularly organizes open mics and writers’ workshops as a means to encourage artistic expression at McGill. Their most recent event on Jan. 23, Say It Because You Mean It, saw 12 poets grace their stage to battle it out with their best spoken word. By the end of the night, and after two rounds of lighthearted audience judging, three poets claimed top honours.
To gauge the audience’s judging, McSWAY began the slam by offering one of their own members to kick off the competition. As part of her symbolic participation in the slam, Lucia De Luca, U4 Education, performed a heartfelt, bilingual poem, discussing the strains that dementia bore on her relationship with her grandmother.
De Luca’s vulnerable expression of a personal hardship was echoed in many of the performances that would follow. The poets made individual use of figurative language and rhythmic cadences to broach issues of queer identity, body image, drug use, sexual assault, suicide, and mental illness. For much of the night, the audience lay struck by each poet’s masterful use of beautiful language to communicate often difficult subject matter. Dawson College student Marikje van den Hoeven, who would go on to win the slam, performed a piece in the first round about the power dynamics in heteronormative intimacy between men and women.
Other performers focussed on more ambiguous narratives, using her poetry as a means to emphasize the emotions and feelings attached to the tangible contexts that originated them. Eliza Prestley (U3, Arts) performed a short poem that blended the topography of a city with remnant images of a fleeting connection with a loved one, as a way to illustrate the process of accepting loss.
“The air in this city tastes like you / are less landmark / and more smog / lining every street / stitched into the sweater I lent you last week,” Prestley began her poem, “Cannot live in a house / on a pedestal but I / am not tall enough to get you down / so I hold you / balloon on string / I knew / it was going to burst / one day, / someday.”
To close the night, McSWAY had invited Chris Masson, a veteran in the spoken word scene. Currently an educator of poetry, the Concordia creative writing alumnus has toured nationally to perform his own poetry, and has also competed in slam competitions throughout Canada. Masson commended the talent of the performers he had seen that night and stressed the need for creative outlets provided by groups such as McSWAY. When he took to the stage, Masson blended intense physicality with emotional volatility, frequently shifting between humour and sombre reflection.
His poetry included a love letter to the city of Montreal; an analysis of mass consumerism, which he likened to a zombie invasion; and a discussion of the 2012 Quebec student protests. His standout poem, “Be My Next Mistake,” explored the romantic tumult that results from the many faces a partner can sport. With a dramatic crescendo that contrasted the poem’s more lighthearted beginning, Masson’s performance embodied the personal bent that characterized many of the night’s earlier poems.
“Be my hurdle out the gate! / Be my fat-free chocolate cake! / My true love I leave for fate! / My ‘why did we start in the place?’ / Be my… be my… be my next mistake!” Masson performed. A flurry of snaps flooded the venue as Masson bowed off the stage.
By the night’s end, audience members and poets alike exited into the cold Montreal air with a renewed inclination for rhythm and rhymes. Such is the importance of events like McSWAY’s: To uncover hidden gems of artistic expression, and to foster new interest in otherwise neglected avenues of creativity.