ULPC poetry slam poster
With a pay-what-you-can fee (including the option of $0), there’s truly nothing to lose and a lot to gain if you’re seeking a creative community or outlet. Image: ULPC/Provided
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Snaps instead of claps, Zoom instead of room

Last Friday, I got to attend my first-ever poetry slam. I wasn’t sure what to expect, especially from a virtual event. I was pleased to discover such a welcoming group of people focused on sharing their art and supporting each other.

I’m grateful that the enthusiastic host, Billie, gave the 411 on poetry slams, explaining the night’s itinerary, the reasoning behind the audience’s snapping (it’s to show support and mark the parts that resonated with you), and the judging system for the slam portion.

The event started off with an open mic, during which poets had five minutes to perform one or many poems — some even included bits of singing. Afterwards, the slam competition took place, where five poets shared their work and were scored out of 10 by volunteer judges. There were two rounds to the slam, with each poet having three minutes per round to perform.

Between both rounds, the night’s feature poet, Apollo the Child, took the stage. I appreciated the crisp simplicity of his language and his comfortable, enunciated delivery that can only come from 12 years of experience on the slam poetry scene. Between excerpts from his upcoming poetry book, Apollo shared funny anecdotes and personal life updates. There was almost a feeling of catching up with old friends.

While I hesitated to contribute to the chat at first, such a welcoming crowd made me more comfortable. My roommate and I had fun unmuting ourselves and joining the shout of “3-2-1 SPEAK” before every new poet.

Poems covered a range of themes, from self-love and self-acceptance to feelings of marginalization and grief. It was wonderful to see a range of people coming together to express themselves and listen to others’ experiences. It’s important to note that while the ULPC is youth-led, poets of all ages and backgrounds are welcome. Delightfully, the virtual format made it possible to welcome poets who aren’t from the Ottawa region. The more, the merrier!

By the end of the night, people were feeling more connected and emotional, as poets spontaneously switched out the material they were planning to perform for works-in-progress and personal stories. That was a powerful part of the night: watching the poems have a direct impact on the other poets. The experience really drove home the positive impact of community on the artistic process.

The ULPC committee did a great job rolling with the punches and adapting to the Zoom landscape. Matching Zoom backgrounds were a cute way to emulate sharing the same space, and Zoom emojis allowed audience members to react to the performances in real time.

For some, attending a ULPC poetry slam — whether to perform or simply to watch and listen — could be a therapeutic experience. For me, the main joy was getting to witness and be included in such a close-knit, supportive community.

Overall, I would definitely recommend attending a ULPC poetry slam, even if you can only stick around for part of it. The slams are three hours long, the equivalent of a dreaded night class… but there’s nothing stopping you from tuning in for just a portion of the slam. An advantage of virtual events is that there’s no shame in popping in or out as needed.

With a pay-what-you-can fee (including the option of $0), there’s truly nothing to lose and a lot to gain if you’re seeking a creative community or outlet.