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Poetry slams rock. The Toronto Poetry Slam at the Drake Hotel Underground
is always packed to standing room only. It’s a monthly spoken word competition, where five judges score each poem based on content and performance. Anyone can sign up to slam. Poets must be prepared with three poems, as there are three rounds, with poets eliminated in each round, going from 12 poets to six to three. Poems must be original and under 3 minutes and 10 seconds; props, costumes and musical instruments aren’t allowed, but teams are. The judges, by the way, are people like you and me, plucked from the audience and of no relation to the poets. Judges can be solo or a team, and their interaction – the entire audience’s interaction, in fact – is all part of the fun.

As I said, poetry slams rock, and the slams at the Drake get rowdy, with booing (of low-scoring judges), cheering, laughing, swearing, sighs of recognition, and snaps of agreement or encouragement. The slam is a community. It’s poets getting up on stage to share their life, in a rhythmic, entertaining way that’s unlike what most people imagine poetry readings to be. Because it’s not just a reading – it’s a slam. And of course, there are lots of poems about breakups and heartache, but there are also political poems, comedic poems, even team poems and musical poems! To quote poet Kay’la Fraser at last night’s pre-slam open mic, the slam is “not a spectator sport. It’s a coliseum where word slayers and truth sayers become gladiators and battle it out with tongues as sharp as their intellectual resolve…[it’s] a beatniks’ revival, a revolution in the making…our art, our life.” Here she is performing This Poetry Game, her ode to the slam.

What: Toronto Poetry Slam
Where: Drake Hotel, 1150 Queen St. W., Toronto, Ont.; 416-531-5042; 866-DRAKE-TO
When: Usually the last Saturday of the month
Time: The slam starts at 8 p.m., but there’s always a lineup before doors open at 7 p.m. (The line for the semifinals starts before 6 p.m.; the finals sells out in advance, so get your tickets early.) Slam and pre-slam open mic signup is at 7:30 p.m.
Cost: Regular slam, $5; finals, TBA