Tuesday, February 11, 2014

VSWF Spotlight: Steve Currie


The heart of the Victoria Spoken Word Festival is the festival ensemble – 12 poets from all across the country who come together to workshop and perform together over the course of the week. Every year we’ve had one poet return from the previous year as our ‘veteran’. This year’s returning poet is Steve Currie, Winnipeg’s 2012 Slam Champion.

Here he writes about what has brought him back to the festival:

Steve Currie performing at last year's Ensemble Showcase - photo by Brett Reid
Two years ago I would have steered far clear of an event described as “poetry for poets”. I wasn't a writer then, certainly not a poet, I was a comedian and a youth worker. I wouldn't go to my first slam for three months, wouldn't meet Missie for five or six. For me, then, “poetry for poets” evoked an image of be-tweeded academics reciting their home-spun Shelley knock-offs to one another; more power to them, but not exactly a hot ticket for me.

A year later.

I'm holding two cups of coffee, I purchased the one in my right hand because I had forgotten the one in my left. I was distracted, something was happening. That morning my ensemble had started writing a piece of poetry, that evening would be its premiere, and finale. It was the closing night of the Victoria Spoken Word Festival.

One of the two aforementioned coffees - photo Brett Reid
On the stage my ensemble mates were deciding which yogic poses would allow them to construct a giant face with their bodies. At my feet were about a dozen board games, I was writing short poem about a dead pawn. The whole theater was echoing the tune of a ukelele sea shanty, it had been written 20 minutes earlier and proved to be extremely catchy. I'm humming the chorus right now.

The ukelele man starts the show with a sea shanty - photo Brett Reid
This was poetry for poets, for the kids who had been to a hundred open mics, slams, features and workshops. This was poetry, but who would recognize it as such? It looked more like the puppetry workshop we had done earlier in the week, it sounded more like a particularly nonsensical shoot-the-shoot of the type we'd been having nightly at Cenotes. I was playing a chess player living eternally in the belly of a sea beast. Of course I was.

The show happened, it was the culmination of a week's worth of workshops in writing, puppetry, mask, and physical theatre. It was the first collaboration of fourteen poets; the strangers and aquaintances and crushes who I was honoured to first call peers, then friends, then whatever we were when we made that show. Beastmates, maybe.

Steve's arm playing poetic chess with Edmonton's Colin Matty - photo Brett Reid
I won't try and describe the piece. Find someone who was there. Don't ask them what it was about, but ask them how they felt about it afterwards. The people I asked said they were crying the next morning, that their hearts had changed shape, and about a hundred different ways of saying “dazed”. For me, it was the first time I felt like a poet. The route to that affirmation strayed a long way from the desk and the typewriter, and a lot closer to the jungle gym I played imagination games under as an eight-year-old. The festival- the performances, the workshops, the ensemble and the final beast- taught me that Capital-P Poetry, the stuff that crashes about your mind and leaves you itchy in your bones for more, is a far stranger beast than I ever would have guessed.

This March, come see my new ensemble. See us write new poems, play with puppets, and feature our best material. You won't be disappointed, these are intensely talented people. If you are like me, you know this, because you have Youtube'd them. Come to these shows and expect to be impressed, provoked, delighted and seduced. You will be. But come back on Saturday, come and see the finale, the good stuff, the love song we write to ourselves and our art. Come see the poetry for poets.

Watch Steve Currie perform ‘To Whom It May Concern’ on the Youtubes: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dyHURjXVj7A

The Victoria Spoken Word Festival runs March 4th-9th:

Visit www.victoriaspokenwordfestival.com to find out about the shows!

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