KPU alumna wins second consecutive Van Slam Championship

Victor says it’s important to know the purpose of your poem

KPU alumna Tasha Receno holding her championship belt (Courtesy of Patrick Shannon)

Kwantlen Polytechnic University alumna Tasha Receno is Vancouver’s Poetry Slam Champion for the second consecutive year. She is the first poet since Shane Koyczan—famous for his performance at the 2010 Olympics opening ceremony—to win the Van Slam Championship two years in a row.

“I think this time around, I went in thinking a little bit differently than I did last time, because last time I was just [hoping to] make it on the team,” says Receno.“This year I was like ‘Okay, you actually have something to lose here.’”

Spoken word is equal parts poetry and performance, which makes it a very accessible and engaging way to consume art.

“You have been given this big opportunity to convey a message to people who probably really need it,” says Receno about performing spoken word. “You never know how you’re going to affect someone and I think if you’re going up in front of an audience and you’re sharing something, you need to know why you want them to hear that. What is the purpose of your poem?”

Receno says her poems always come from a personal place. She relies on her gut feeling to guide her through her creative process, which has certainly paid off.

“I had started a poem three or four days before finals and I only got maybe four lines in, but something was happening there. I knew that I needed to say something that I hadn’t said yet,” she explains. “Something in me was telling me I needed to do that and I always listen to that voice because it usually knows best.”

Receno followed her gut and performed the poem she had only just finished writing for the final competition. It’s the poem that earned her a high enough score to take the championship home for a second year.

“I’ve just always stuck with my gut feeling,” says Receno. “Even if it’s kind of a scary one.”

During adolescence, Receno was still figuring out how she wanted her stories to be told. It was only near the end of high school, she discovered spoken word and slam poetry.

“I felt like I never fit in because I always had so much to say, and I think that spoken word really clicked with me because that’s exactly what it was about,” says Receno. “After hearing the Shane Koyczan CD Move Pen Move, I remember sitting there crying and I was like, ‘What is this? This is so beautiful.’”

She soon became a student in the creative writing department, though had still yet to find her voice in poetry or performance.

“It was probably in my third year, they were starting up the poetry slam at Kwantlen. I thought it was really cool and so I would try and show up there every now and then, and I would do some poems.”

Fast forward a few years and Receno is a KPU creative writing graduate who has competed at the Canadian Festival of Spoken Word, the Canadian Individual Poetry Slam Championships, and the National Poetry Slam.

“I’m working towards being able to really take this into career mode now,” says Receno. “[I’m] branching out and looking at different opportunities to see where spoken word will take me. So far, it’s been quite the journey.”

Courtesy of Tasha Receno

As one of its former students continues to win acclaim, KPU’s creative writing department will be offering a host of new courses to better mold students into unique writers. One such course is a spoken word class, taught by Billeh Nickerson, a former teacher of Receno’s.

“To see [Tasha’s] growth as an artist and as a human, but an artist first and foremost, has been wonderful to see,” says Nickerson. “We’re just so proud of her and she has such an inspiring story for students, faculty, everyone. She’s always had a voice but I think she’s finally realizing the power of [it].”

Nickerson is no stranger to the spoken word scene in Vancouver. “When I go to the Spoken Word [performances], I see the excitement and the immediacy,” says Nickerson. “They get to deal with things that are topical, in the now, and I love the diversity of the audience and I love that immediacy. They’re so supportive and I wish that other literary genres and other poetries had that kind of support.”

The course is still in its development stage, so a lot is still to be determined. Still, Nickerson hopes to bring many of the positive elements of the spoken word scene into his classroom.

“My students will not be working in a vacuum, they’re going to be looking at things in the now, things cross-cultures and looking at things like sound and rhythm, but also content and narrative.”

The writing department at KPU is currently going through some changes so that students are able to have more flexibility and choices in the program, which is what has made the option of a spoken word course possible. Nicola Harwood, Chair of the Creative Writing department, has been conducting these changes.

“I don’t think people actually get that there’s this great little program at Kwantlen,” says Harwood. “And you know, [by] Tasha representing [us] by being so talented, and Billeh being her mentor in Spoken Word, it’s fabulous. I think that hopefully it will get people to turn their heads and go, ‘oh there’s something going on down there that [we] might want to be apart of.’ I mean the program just keeps getting better.”

In addition to the spoken word class, the department will also be offering special topics on young adult fiction, speculative fiction, nature writing, and a course intriguingly called “Zombies, Gods, and Monsters.”

“It just seems like a really good fit to offer what Billeh has, which is professional experience, to students who really want to do this [spoken word],” says Harwood. “And some students might not see themselves as much as writers as performers, so it also could be an offering to them to come and combine those skills.”


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