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Slam Coalkan poetry anthology celebrates work of Indigenous slam poets

To bring together and showcase Indigenous slam poetry from across Turtle Island and Abya Yala, and to continue to foster cross-continental communication and collaboration, the Toronto International Festival of Authors (TIFA) and the Festival of the Peripheries (FLUP) in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, put on a joint event. The Slam Coalkan brought together 17 Indigenous spoken-word artists from across North and South America in 2021. After the event’s success, TIFA reached out to Kegedonce Press to publish an English-language anthology that would archive and commemorate the gathering. The anthology is titled Slam Coalkan Performance Poetry: The Condor and the Eagle Meet and it beautifully showcases the participating poets’ work.

Slam Coalkan is curated by two of the participating poets, Toronto-based Jennifer Alicia Murrin and São Paulo-based Renata Turpinambá. “This is not the first time Indigenous folks from the North and South have met. Our ancestors travelled and visited thousands of years before this, and those relationships continue,” Murrin says. “There are several stories that speak to this union, such as the Condor and the Eagle prophecy” – which is referenced in the title of both the anthology and the larger event.

“Coalkan,” as Tupinambá writes in her foreword, is “a prophecy about the pact between nations for the protection of life.” It is an ancient story about the meeting of the Condor and the Eagle, in which South America is represented by the Condor and North America is represented by the Eagle. The prophecy states that one day the Eagle and the Condor will fly together, and that this coming together will bring the world into balance. That balance, Kegedonce makes clear, is a political one that speaks out against colonialism and oppression. The anthology is activist at its heart: “poetry of Slam Coalkan speaks out against the evils of colonialism, racism, transphobia, and genocide,” Kegedonce says. In their foreword to the anthology, Murrin also notes that each poem is “a glimpse of our lived experiences. While reading, consider how our words can move you into action.”

Renata Tupinambá and Jennifer Alicia Murrin

Furthering the cross-continental communication, FLUP is “working with a Brazilian publisher to release the anthology in a Portuguese version,” TIFA’s Roland Gulliver says.

While Slam Coalkan is primarily an English-language anthology, there are a number of other languages represented in the poetry, and several of the anthologized poems speak out against colonialism in language. Any written transcription of slam poetry is already a translation; in a print anthology of slam poetry, readers are only experiencing a part of the performance. To address this, Kegedonce has included QR codes throughout the book that link to videos of the original performances.

“Spoken word is meant to be heard. The way we tell our stories through embodying them on a stage is completely different from reading the words on a page,” Murrin says. The poetry printed in the anthology is vivid and striking, but there will always be “moments in a performance that can never be translated to the page – the moments of tension, the build ups, the pauses. The energy cannot be transcribed.”

The event and the anthology are examples of TIFA’s move to add Indigenous literary and arts projects that are Indigenous-led, Indigenous-curated, and that include Indigenous-only spaces. In addition to the slam performances and the anthology, TIFA also scheduled four roundtables with the poets that were held as private, Indigenous-only events.

Slam Coalkan launches at Glad Day Bookshop in Toronto on June 21, National Indigenous People’s Day.