Jillian Christmas Performs on the Surrey Campus

Slam poet returns to KPU with verse and song
Calvin Borghardt, Contributor

Jillian (1)

Jillian Christmas plays the ukulele on February 23, 2017. (Calvin Borghardt)

KPU welcomed accomplished slam poet Jillian Christmas to the Surrey campus on Feb. 23, when she performed a blend of poetry and music. Christmas has earned numerous Poetry Slam Championship titles in Vancouver and has represented the city at the Women of the World Poetry Slam for the past two years. She also currently serves as Artistic Director of Verses Festival of Words, which will take place at the end of April.

She has previously featured at KPU as part of the student-led Slamapalooza series, which showcases both amateur and professional-level performance poets. This time, however, she was invited by the school’s creative writing faculty and the President’s Diversity and Equity Committee in celebration of Black History Month.

“It’s a very vibrant campus,” Christmas says, about performing at KPU. “I couldn’t say no.”

Christmas performed with nothing but a microphone and her ukulele—affectionately named Marshmallow—which she describes as a friend. Her set, which seamlessly blended spoken word and music, was characterized by a strong penchant for poetic phrases and Christmas’s soft, dreamlike voice.

“I do a lot of practising, but also sometimes I will record my ideal version of a piece and then play it in my headphones when I’m on the bus or something,” says Christmas. “I often will rewrite a piece over and over and over again until it is hammered in.”

When Christmas finished her performance, she took time to discuss her work with the audience in a Q&A session. According to Christmas, these “talk-backs” let the audience dig into the work presented by an artist and unpack it to a greater extent than they could by reading a poem off the page.

While discussing her storytelling method, Christmas admitted that there are times when she flubs a line on stage, but that, “if you know a story, you should be able to tell it whether not you remember the exact words.”

“My mind is fallible… [and] sometimes spontaneity is a good thing,” she says.

Christmas feels that any time an artist is performing live, they should be sure to pay close attention to the reactions of their audience and the energy in the venue.

“I think that becomes part of the conversation, but specifically in the context of slam [poetry], we encourage the audience to be vocal and to really respond to what they’re seeing on the stage,” says Christmas. “I think that’s a wonderful way to garner immediate feedback from your audience, and if you are willing to receive the harsh criticism as well as the good stuff, you can learn a lot from your audience.”

Every spring, the Verses Festival of Words invites slam poets from across Canada to perform and compete to determine the nation’s best individual slam poet. This year, the Verses Festival will be held from April 20 to 30. For more information, visit their website.

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