The Van Slam Family gathered at Brittania Community Centre on November 29th to elect the next Slammaster. Sean McGarragle has served as national Slammaster for the past four years, leading the community into an era of once-a-week slams. Duncan Shields has served for the past couple years as the international Slammaster, taking care of the logistics of sending poets to American tournaments and spearheading the Vancouver Poetry Slam’s Youtube channel.
Before the election, it was decided that the two roles would be combined into one and that the new single Slammaster would remain a volunteer position. Then the election took place. There were four excellent candidates and a runoff vote was required. In the end, Jessica Mason-Paull emerged as the Slammaster Elect. She will be working with Sean and Duncan for the rest of the winter season to learn the ins and outs of the job before taking the reins herself in May 2012.
We spoke on the phone with Jessica earlier this week to hear more about her perspective on the Vancouver Poetry Slam and her vision for it moving forward.
How did you originally discover Van Slam?
I remember hearing about poetry slam back in Bristol in the late nineties and sadly, I was still of the belief that I was the popular kid at high school, so I wouldn’t go to something like that. (laughs) When I moved to Vancouver, I happened to move to a block away from where the slam is. The first slam I came too though, I heard about on the radio from one of RC Weslowski’s announcements.
What were your first impressions of Van Slam?
I remember thinking it was one of the coolest arts communities I’ve ever walked in on. I think that’s because people get up and say whatever they want and everyone listens. That doesn’t happen anywhere else.
Who are some of your favourite poets and why?
My favourite poem is “Tourettes” by Patrick Swan. My favourite performers would be Buddy Wakefield because he stands up there and clearly has something to say. I don’t always agree with everything he says,
but I love that he says it. Also, RC Weslowski and Chris Masson because they’re such wicked performers. They get onstage and they don’t even have say anything and everyone shuts up.
They have things to share and I think the world needs to hear it.
There is a question that everyone wants to ask you–
Am I single? Yes.
(laughs) I’ll put that in too. Actually, I was going to ask: what is the secret to being a great heckler at the Vancouver Poetry Slam?
It’s a combination of speaking exactly what’s on your mind and a certain amount of English sarcasm and wit. And saying it very loudly.
Why did you want to become Slammaster?
Oh my god, I’ve always wanted to be Slammaster. Because I’m an organization freak. Because I love the community and I really want to serve it, as cheesy as that sounds. I would love to put all my efforts into making sure there are more people here, hearing what poets have to say.
How do you envision Van Slam changing over your two-year term as Slammaster?
Well, a hot English woman is going to be running the show. That will be the principal change. (laughs) I will be really focusing on the local talent that we’ve already developed and to really help them to become great and internationally known. I’d love to have a diversity of international – and by that I don’t mean just American – poets on our stage. I’d also like to keep sending our Van Slam ninjas around the world.
A common criticism of poetry slam is that its competitive nature does not encourage artistic excellence. How would you respond to this?
We’d all like to live in a hippie utopia, but if we’re honest, we’re judging each other all the time. The competition encourages poets to work within set limits and challenges them to push themselves and their art. So I’d completely disagree.
What are some ways that people can get involved in the Vancouver Poetry Slam?
Everything that happens at the poetry slam needs help from volunteers. You can send me an email at email@example.com telling me what you’re interested in and I’ll get right back to you. There are opportunities in everything from score-keeping to logistics to hosting. You can also email our volunteer coordinator, Kyle, through firstname.lastname@example.org. Most of all though, we need performers. If you write poetry, but you’re too afraid to sign up, send me some of it. Then, I’ll bug you to get up and share it on stage.