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George Elliott Clarke to speak at poetry slam event

Original, impassioned, and usually pretty loud, poetry slams offer spoken word artists a chance to present their work and compete in front of a crowd hungry for creativity. And Toronto’s poet laureate, George Elliott Clarke, will be stepping into the arena.

Clarke is lined up as the main attraction at the next Toronto Poetry Slam event on Jan. 26. Slams feature a number of artists competing against each other, whittled down through three rounds by pre-selected participants in the audience. While Clarke won’t be part of the actual competition, he represents an effort to showcase poets with varying styles.

We haven’t had a ˜literary poet’ featured in a long time. We don’t just want to look insular, says David Silverberg, artistic director of the Toronto Poetry Slam.

Silverberg adds that one of the goals of the Toronto Poetry Slam — a twice-monthly competition that began seven years ago — is to demonstrate how poetry can relate to everyone’s experiences and is not just poetry with a capital ‘p’ by dead white guys.

Toronto Poetry Slam competitor Delisca
photo: Michelle Darby

While poetry slams are nothing new, a recent article in The Telegraph brought to light some controversy surrounding the competitions. Calling slams the new stand-up comedy, the article comments on a “class divide” between written and performed poetry.

For Silverberg, poetry is poetry, regardless of the medium of expression. Good spoken word is good written poetry. They have the same features and style, he says. The difference lies in performance poetry being just that: a performance, one that uses body language, movement, beats, and the crowd to enhance the experience.

Clarke’s appearance at the next slam event will provide a blend of the written and the spoken, regardless of its comedic value.