Words help us to communicate a message, an emotion, a thought or an idea. We convey words in many different ways, depending on the message or purpose. Sometimes we shout them out of anger or use them in a soft apology, we sing them out loud and we whisper them in a poem. Without a doubt, words are powerful and they move people, so be careful how you wield that sword – we don’t need anyone hurt or targeted because ‘your words’ found an audience that worshipped you (Trump) and carried out your message to show their devotion.
When you consider the mildest form of words mashed together, does poetry come to mind? Most of us have written at least one or a dozen to our sweetheart, our mom or to ourselves. Poetry is very personal and it conveys many things, such as a fine art piece. The metaphors, the analogies, the riddles and the subject are all pieced together one word at a time, until your masterpiece is finished. People will have different interpretations of it, depending on their connection to the subject, much like a song. Poetry is art and it deserves its audience as much as other forms of literary art. We celebrate concerts in huge arenas because we want to sing along with the words of the songs. We are captivated by the dialogue coming from an actors’ mouth in live theatre or in a film and we sometimes hang onto phrases – Hasta la vista baby, yippee ki yay motha… I think you get the idea.
I’ve heard the term Slam Poetry before but I never really knew what it was about, besides the obvious – poetry. I was also unfamiliar with ‘Spoken Word’ and the popularity of it. As an advocate for literature, I needed to educate myself on these terms and share my findings. Luckily for me, my answers came from two-time National Poetry Slam Champion, author & producer, Dwayne Morgan. Dwayne is presenting the 22nd annual “When Brothers Speak” Spoken Word Concert on Saturday, Nov. 27. Morgan, Canada’s spoken word guru, founded Up From The Roots Entertainment to promote the positive artistic contributions of African Canadian and urban influenced artists.
The special line up for this year’s concert features performances by Ontario’s first Poet Laureate, Randell Adjei, Toronto’s Patrick Waters, Hamilton’s Eddie Lartey and special guest, Obbie West from Las Vegas.
“When Brothers Speak” remains North America’s largest and longest running showcase of black, male, spoken word artists. For the second year, When Brothers Speak will be held virtually, offering audiences across the country the opportunity to log into the performances. It’s an opportunity to listen to poetry that wakes emotions and renews energy. Morgan is a Scarborough Walk of Fame inductee, a recipient of the African Canadian Achievement Award and the Harry Jerome Award. He has performed for Barack Obama, former Governor General of Canada, Michaelle Jean, and shared the stage with many artists including Russell Peters, Alicia Keys, and Drake.
“This is not your grandparent’s poetry. Think Hip Hop without the music, with clever word play, passion and energy.”
If you’d like to purchase tickets to the virtual event ‘When Brothers Speak’ contact – dwaynemorgan.ca
Dwayne was my special guest and teacher on the subject of Slam poetry and Spoken word and I just might start a little training myself in the near future… and maybe you will too. See you in the ring. Roll the tape!
HNMAG “You’re a Scarborough Walk of Fame inductee, a recipient of the African Canadian Achievement Award and the Harry Jerome Award. You’ve performed for Barack Obama, former Governor General of Canada, Michaelle Jean, and shared the stage with many artists including Russell Peters, Alicia Keys, and Drake. How did your journey into Slam Poetry begin?”
DWAYNE “It’s an unlikely journey because I’m actually a quiet and shy introvert and I never would’ve chosen something that would put me on stage, or in front of people… but at the same time, I’ve always had this competitive edge. It started in Highschool, I was in charge of putting on a talent show for Black History month. I had organized my friends to sign up and perform on stage, but I didn’t want to be left out. I had no talent, so I had to come up with something that would get me on that stage. I wrote a poem. That poem changed my life and I started writing and telling stories about the world and the way I see it. Twenty-eight years later, I’m still living off my art and it’s been a fantastic journey.”
HNMAG “You must have a huge passion for words and literature to do what you do?”
DWAYNE “Absolutely, but the stories we’re telling aren’t new stories. We have to find creative ways to put a spin on it and see it from another perspective. I think that’s when you get into the nuance of playing with words, playing with metaphors and analogies. As a Black man that grew up in the city, I’ve written so many poems about gun violence and other issues, but how do you keep writing it in new and different ways, so that you’re not repeating the same poem, over and over again. That’s where the love for language comes in and you really get creative – to put a story together to share with people.”
HNMAG “What is the biggest difference between spoken word and slam poetry?”
DWAYNE “Great question… there’s technically no such thing as Slam Poetry. It’s become this term, where – once you’re in it, it doesn’t make any sense. If you’re at a Poetry Slam, you know there’s going to be a competition; there’s judges, there’s a winner and a loser. In other words, a Poetry Slam is the event where people come together to compete in – Spoken Word.”
HNMAG “What is it about a poetry performance that wins an event?”
DWAYNE “It’s always very interesting and I always tell younger artists that I work with and mentor, to not get caught up in the scores, the winning and losing, because it’s completely arbitrary. The judges have no experience in poetry – the organizers have randomly picked people in the audience that agreed to give scores to these poets. If you change the five judges, another poet wins, so you can’t get caught up in it; it’s just 5 people’s opinions. The fact that you’re being judged and being scored – inspires people to put more energy into the performance. You really want to write and perform something that really connects to people and brings them into the story. If you can evoke a connection through what you’re sharing, that will get you higher marks than someone that’s in it solely for themselves or for personal gratification.”
HNMAG “How much do you pay attention to social issues and are some topics off limits in a competition?”
DWAYNE “It definitely helps to have your finger on the pulse of what’s happening around you. It changes a little when you’re in a national competition. What’s happening in Toronto or Ontario isn’t the same thing that’s happening in Vancouver, so you have to craft your topics around a broader, more universal audience that will get it. You want to be informed enough, to talk about your topics in a way that speaks to everyone. In terms of anything that might be taboo, typically everything is fair game but you want it to be your authentic reality. You don’t want to write about being transgendered if you’re not; leave that for the transgendered community because that’s their reality. You always want to stay in your lane, knowing it’s your truth, it’s authentic to me, I’ve experienced it, I felt it, I’ve lived through it – then you write from that authenticity.”
HNMAG “Do you need tremendous confidence to enter these competitions?”
DWAYNE “You really need a very thick skin and overwhelming confidence. You might be standing there in front of everybody and someone gives you a 5 out of 10. You might feel like you’ve given it your all, but you have to stand there and take it, because somebody wasn’t feeling it and it didn’t resonate with them. It’s important to be able to detach yourself from the scores to not take it personally. The role of the judge is to give an honest score and if they didn’t feel it, they’ll give them a score that reflects that. As artists, we have to take it.”
HNMAG “This event – When Brothers Speak – Spoken Word Concert has been held for 22 years now, that’s pretty phenomenal.”
DWAYNE “From the very first show we did, it’s been called, When Brothers Speak. The very first one we did was at The Comfort Zone at College and Spadina. We crammed hundreds of people into the venue to listen to poetry; from there, it blossomed and we ended up at the Saint Lawrence Centre for the Arts… until Covid hit. We’re doing it virtually for the second year in a row, but ‘When Brothers Speak’ is not a slam, it’s not a competition, it is a showcase that I curate. I pick all the artists based on their national profile and their activity. From there, I put it all together and present this show of Black men speaking through poetry – about their life experiences, how they see the world and what it’s like to be Black in North America. We always have both American and Canadian artists in the show, speaking about that Black experience.”
HNMAG “Before the pandemic, what size of crowd would you have at an event?”
DWAYNE “We would sell the show out every year. We had a great track record of selling out the show with 500 people in the theatre, listening to poetry. When you tell people that, they find it so hard to believe. We actually used to hold the event over a two-day period because we always sold out the first night and it was so popular, that more people wanted to come out and hear it. Every year, people bring new friends and it keeps growing and evolving.”
HNMAG “This event is only open to male performers?”
DWAYNE “The audience can be anybody but the artists are all Black men. Every March, I produce a show, When Sisters Speak for Black women. Before the ‘Me Too’ movement and other movements – I was creating space for women to get on stage to speak their truth and say what they want to say, because I recognize the importance. I think its also important to create a space where Black men can speak about being Black and people simply listen. They can hear a different perspective that they never imagined or considered. That’s really what the show is about, being able to hear these Black men. We think differently, but I think it’s important to note, that there’s also difference within us.”
HNMAG “Could we someday see a coed production of Black men and women at the same venue?”
DWAYNE “I do shows like that, outside of this event. Throughout the year, I’m producing events and the majority of them have a mix of culture, artists, musicians, comedians and not just Black artists. These happen to be my 2 signature events, for the men and the other for the women. For the duration of the year, I definitely have a mix at other events.”
HNMAG “When you’re competing at events, do you have to be good at tongue twisters?”
DWAYNE “You definitely don’t have to be good at tongue twisters, it’s not really part of it. Maybe to help with style wise, where people are mesmerized by what you just said. That’s part of having fun, playing with the language – it’s not just about the words, but how you say the words that make it appealing to someone’s ears. It’s similar to composing a song… not every single will be a ballot or a club song. Depending on what you’re writing, it will take on it’s own melody and you write within that. I have some poems that I’ll say really fast and then I have others where I want the words to linger and project onto the audience, or what I’m trying to say to you. We don’t get to hide behind the musicians, it’s just you, the microphone and the audience. You have to keep people interested, so you transition from one poem into the next. You need to understand that your voice is your instrument and you have to master it, in order to keep your audience engaged until the end of your set.”
HNMAG “Have you ever been on stage and you got tongue tied or forgot your next line or verse?”
DWAYNE “That has happened and it is the worst. I’ll acknowledge that the poem doesn’t want to be performed that night and we’re moving onto the next one in the set. Otherwise, you can stay there forever trying to get this one line out that you’ve said a million times. The audience is feeling sorry for you, so it’s onto the next one. Maybe I’ll come back to it later if I can, otherwise I’m moving – there has to be one that I remember here.”
HNMAG “Have you ever written a song derived from a poem?”
DWAYNE “Yes, it’s actually very interesting because I was approached by some producers that I know. They want to make a project, where we create songs inspired by my poems. They selected 7 poems that they really like, then sent me the music – so I had to rewrite the songs based on the music. We’re now looking for singers to be part of the project. It will be interesting if it comes to fruition, because you’d first hear the poem, followed by the song inspired by the poem.”
HNMAG “Have you ever considered taking ‘When Brothers Speak’ across the country?”
DWAYNE “We have done it in Ottawa, as well as Buffalo. It did extremely well at both venues and the long-term goal is to have a touring bus that takes us from city to city. The vision is to pick up 1 or 2 local artists to be part of each show. I’d never want to go into a city without having a local component to it. When we brought the show to Ottawa and Buffalo, we made sure we had their local talent at each show to ensure that they were part of the experience.”