Oral tradition: Montreal edition

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This year marks the 10th anniversary of Canada’s annual Spoken Word Festival, and the first time the festival has graced a Montreal stage.

Since its inception in Ottawa in 2004, the Canadian Festival of Spoken Word has grown from six teams of poets to 20, with a constantly growing audience appealing to viewers of varying ages and languages. Originally a space to showcase spoken word talent, the festival has grown to incorporate a medley of performance events designed to facilitate the bright and dynamic Canadian spoken word and poetry communities.

Our vibrant city provides a fitting backdrop for the first multilingual festival. Moe Clark directs this year’s presentation, which includes showcases, workshops, and panels, and brings together a collaboration of the stories of over 120 poets under the theme of “Diverse Languages.” The bilingualism that is so central to Montreal, and the larger tension between French, English, and Canada’s Indigenous languages, intersects directly with the festival’s through-line—the negotiation and diversification of language. Under Clark’s artistic direction, the festival intends to honour the rich diversity of languages and oral traditions that are in danger of extinction by deconstructing frameworks of language.

Clark seeks to promote awareness about the multiplicity of language. By integrating different disciplines of what constitutes communication—visual, physical, spoken, lyrical—Clark hopes to widen the scope of the festival’s target audience and their perception of language. Through a combination of poetry, storytelling, and dialogue, the acts in the festival show oral traditions as playing a crucial part in the transmission of history, while attending to both the conflict and interdependence of spoken and written work.

“We have chosen to make each showcase eclectic and diverse, to represent not only the diversity of voices that exist within spoken word, but also to highlight the cabaret style performances of Montreal,” Clark explains. “To do this, we’ve veered away from hosting more ‘token’ showcases, i.e. only Aboriginal artists, only queer performers, et cetera, by bringing spoken word poets from various genres and orientations together in the same event.”

The acts are structured to demystify storytelling and spoken word in an effort to examine language and make its preservation and transmission more accessible.

Recruiting this community of artists was a key part of creating material and establishing a “collective conscious” for the festival. Clark describes how the individual diversity and dynamic energy of the contributors are “language keepers” who “keep the flames of language lit through generations” and build upon the stories that they are preserving.

 

The Canadian Festival of Spoken Word “Diverse Languages” runs from Nov. 4 to Nov. 9 at Theatre Rialto, with events scheduled all day. The last event will showcase this year’s poets of honour: Jose Acquelin and Tanya Evanson.