Slamapalooza’s Fifth Poetry Team Prepares for a Year of Slamming

Tawahum Bige, Chelsea Franz, Ainslie Glass, and Naaz Sidhu are the group’s new members

Naaz, Ainslie, Tawahum and Chelsea, are going to represent KPU at The Canadian Festival of Spoken Word. (Yuta Anonuevo)

This year’s Slamapalooza team has officially been determined, and four of its members are hoping to attend the Canadian Festival of Spoken Word in Guelph this October.

The lineup for KPU’s slam poetry team was finalized after the season-ending championship slam was held on the evening of Sept. 21 in Birch 250. The 2018-19 team now consists of Burnsview Secondary students Naaz Sidhu and Ainslie Glass and KPU students Tawahum Bige and Chelsea Franz.

Sidhu was the ultimate winner of the championship, although all four poets received high scores at the event. The slam was moderated by team coach Simon Massey, who throughout the event reminded the audience to “applaud the poetry, not the points.”  

Several poets from the community qualified for the championships but did not perform at the finals. While the slam was originally supposed to consist of three short rounds, with the five highest-scoring poets making the team, the small number of performers meant that each one of them automatically became members. This group will spend the remainder of 2018 and part of 2019 working and slamming together at home and abroad.

At a slam poetry competition, judges hold up score cards after each poem to determine who wins. (Yuta Anonuevo)

As this year’s Slamapalooza champion, Sidhu notes that performing in an intimate setting such as Birch 250 makes her feel “a lot more comfortable” about opening up through her work.

“Obviously poetry is very vulnerable. It puts you in a position where you’re laying out everything you feel in front of people that sometimes you don’t even know,” she says. “So being in an environment full of people you know, especially here—everyone here is so welcoming and it really helped.”

Franz, who is just beginning to slam in front of an audience, is also glad to be part of a poetry collective that is “on campus and so easily accessible” to students.

“I’ve always been wanting to get into performances,” she says. “I haven’t done much performing before this, so this was a cool opportunity for me to kind of break in and put my foot in the door and get a chance to do something.”

For Bige, being a slam poet is “as healing as it is fun.”

“My own lived experience helps me heal from trauma and helps me not bring that home with me afterwards. I also make it a point to not leave it on the stage in a way that it cuts other people,” he says. “That’s an important thing and I think it’s something that a lot of poets find important about doing this work.”

Bige is currently the poet-in-residence at Burnsview Secondary, where he recruited both Sidhu and Glass for the slam team. Massey also attended Burnsview in his adolescence, emphasizing the success of the creative talent from that school.

This success is due, in part, to a well-known and beloved drama instructor by the name of Leslie Stark. According to members of Slamapalooza, she has inspired several students to get involved in poetry and has, herself, taken part in KPU’s poetry team. For Sidhu and Glass, she was not only an instructor but a creative coach and a “school mom.”

Massey says that Slamapalooza welcomes high school students to participate, out of the desire to keep its slams inclusive and community-centred.

“We’re still holding onto the spirit we built this around,” says Massey. “People or poets are coming here and putting out their words. That has always been a part of this. We’ve really tried to make the slam run in a way where people feel free to come and share their words and they aren’t as absorbed in the competition as you get with a lot of other slams.”

He continues, “We’ve always wanted to keep this about the poetry, and seeing the finals today, it really and truly is.”