HOME ON EARTH
Saturday, April 21
Calgary International Spoken Word Festival
Calgary is famous for many things: cows, white Stetson cowboy hats, cowboys/cowgirls, oil, money, lots of money and obscenely expensive real estate. But poetry and poets? This, the third annual Calgary International Spoken Word Festival, is continuing to put Calgary on the poetry map. Started by the Calgary Spoken Word Society, this years festival seeks to expand the breadth and variety of poets and spoken word artists invited to perform at this years festival.
Of the many events throughout the festival, one in particular pokes fun at the question often posed to poets and artists in Cowtown: "If youre so talented, why are you still in Calgary?"
Titled Home on Earth, the spoken word artists invited to perform are all Calgary expats who have moved on to larger, more literary cities. In an interesting reversal of roles, they will be asked to bring their latest works to the old hometown.
Brendan McLeod, an ex-Calgarian ten years removed, described by the CBC as "Canadas top SLAM spieler," is the winner of Vancouvers Grand SLAM poetry Champion in 2005 and the Canadian SLAM poetry champion in 2004. McLeod finished second in the 2004 World SLAM championship and most recently won the International 3 Day Novel Competition with his book, The Convictions of Leonard McKinley.
"That was an incredible experience," laughs McLeod of the novel competition, "but you could not pay me to do that again."
Spoken word festivals help establish a presence and performance space for poets in any locale, and McLeod believes that the popularity of these festivals has helped create the current climate of appreciation for talent in Calgary.
"Spoken word has made poetry and poets more accessible," says McLeod. "Even though I am no longer involved with slam poetry, its just too much like sports, less like art spoken word has helped popularize poetry as a performance art form."
Another ex-Calgary poet, Kaie Kellough left the city nine years ago. He will be performing his poetry for the first time in the city and still finds inspiration from his experiences here. "Just growing up here, the environment shaped my sensibilities and helps shape how I write," says Kellough. "I love the slow, sensuous hills that surround the city. Living in Montreal is very different. It commands attention. It is a place of immediacy, very different from Calgary."
Kellough likes the performance facet to poetry. "It has been part of humanity since the first story was told," says Kellough. "The page is silent and static where performance is movement and energy." Kellough is a member of Montreals Kalmunity Vibe Collective, co-editor of Talking Book, and was awarded a Canada Council grant allowing him to work on a collection of poems set in Montreal titled Lettricity.
One of the featured artists in Home on Earth is poet Murdoch Burnett, 11 years away from town, with 36 years of experience behind him. He will be the first recipient of the "honourable, soon-to-be-prestigious, and sought after Golden Beret Award for his contributions to the Calgary arts community."
"I hope people feel it is something that I would deserve," says the humble Burnett. "I hope it is not a lifetime achievement award I still have so much more that I want to do. I was quite surprised and honoured by the award."
Burnett feels that Calgarys arts community has finally started to come into its own. "It has been fun to see it take off and grow," says Burnett. "I have been on the sidelines as a one-man cheering section. If I have one concern its if someone is waving a lot of money at you, its difficult to keep ones integrity. At the heart of art-making is a deep concern about that."
Burnett describes himself as a "hyphen-less" poet. "For a long time it was poet, before the hyphen. Over the years, there has been an explosion of club-poets, punk-poets, poetry slams, workshops, etc. That has been great spoken word had been meant to be a more inclusive term," says Burnett. "But for myself, I am a poet first, performer second. I recognize that poetry can wear many hats. I just have never felt a need to hyphenate myself."