Last night I attended the Toronto Slam Poetry Finals and when I say I attended the Toronto Slam Poetry Finals I mean I attended a three hour talk therapy session where I did none of the talking. There was no therapist sitting there asking me questions, probing out answers I didn’t even know I had inside of me. There was no comfy couch or chair to sit on, but instead packed theatre seats facing a stage. Instead of affirmations and self-care reminders, instead of tools for how to handle the next bad day, instead of a safe space to let it all out, there was just words. And last night, that was enough.
You see I found out about slam poetry how I believe most people do; through viral videos. The first poem I remember coming into contact with was Neil Hilborn’s “OCD”. The video went viral with over 75 million views and I can promise you, if you haven’t watched it, it’s worth a look. After “OCD” I went on to search out more great poems, looking for the same passion and heart that Hildborn had put into his performance. I found an abundance of it.
But last night was the first time I went to an actual performance. I wasn’t sure what to expect. Would three hours of poetry remain as impactful and powerful as what I had found online? Would I connect to the poems the way I had before? Admittedly, in the beginning I bought my ticket with the sole purpose of seeing the feature artist Sabrina Benaim but the night ended up being so much more. Of course, meeting Sabrina was a big moment for me; I was shaking after talking to her for a few passing seconds. I am thankful for being able to tell her the impact her poem “Explaining my depression to my mother” has had on me and listening to her live was incredibly healing. It’s just what I needed right now. In particular, one line from her newer piece stuck with me:
“I just feel lately I’m living myself back alive.” – Sabrina Benaim
This is something I’m working on right now. It’s coming in the form of doctors appointments and a whole lot of work. I’ve noticed things getting bad again and I have to be present enough to stop it. There are some big and wonderful things coming up for me, and I want to be around to see them happen.
But it wasn’t just Sabrina last night who patched up the freshly opened wounds in my mind, it was each and every poet who performed. From the younger artists from BAM! Youth Slam to those competing for a place on Toronto’s team, each poet brought forth works of art that were raw, real, and healing.
Each poem was so different and so powerful. From stories about having a child with autism to defending one’s own blackness or learning to break lessons of hyper-masculinity, it didn’t matter the topic, the artists found ways to inspire, move, and motivate with their words. As the host said early in the night “they’ll make you cringe, wishing you’d written the line yourself.” Indeed they did.
That’s when I realized; I’ll never write the line myself if I’m not writing.
Poetry has been in me since well before I discovered slam. It was something I was very interested in as a child. In fact, there are whole scrap books filled with poems I wrote my mother. They are juvenile, of course, but the heart was still there even when I believed you had to make everything rhyme. I have written some less Dr. Seuss-like poetry since then, though very little of it has ever been shared with anyone. It’s been my form of private therapy, something I do when I need to get emotions out in a productive way. In fact, many times it has been my replacement for self-harm.
The poem I wrote Matt for the proposal was the first time I’ve actually performed anything I’ve written. But after last night I’ve decided it won’t be the last. Toronto Slam does open mic at the Drake Hotel on a regular basis throughout their season. All you have to do is show up with your poems, sign yourself up for the evening, and you have a platform. It’s intimidating to think about right now, especially since so much of my stuff is half written or scribbled somewhere random but I’ve decided this is something I need to do for myself. And I’m writing it down here so someone can hold me to it.
Before the show last night my mom texted me telling me she’s happy I’ve found something to interest me and that I’m trying new things. Mom, so am I.