I began writing poetry at the age of 13, a few months after my family and I had immigrated to Canada. The first piece I wrote was influenced by the suffering of children in war-riddled countries. Poetry to me at the time was an alternative to writing in a journal. Most importantly, it was a way of expressing myself and communicating my thoughts onto paper.
Many years later in the cold Canadian winter of 2008, I sat in a circle surrounded by other youth, many of whom were absolute strangers. We had come together for a 4 day retreat in Toronto to focus on community work and social engagement. What we gained from the retreat was a renewed sense of determination to emphasize the common characteristics that all humans share regardless of ethnicity or religion. SPEAKout was born to achieve that goal, serving as an arts medium that would allow us to communicate such an idea while creating a platform for discussion. Through the art of the spoken word, SPEAKout would act as a space to build bridges between the barriers that exist between different faiths and cultures.
Our chosen medium is performance poetry, a theatrical experience condensed into 3 to 4 minute poetic pieces. Performance poetry is poetry that refuses to stay on paper, using the stage as its platform to communicate all the messages it holds, while utilizing the power of body language and eye contact.
The SPEAKout team aims to present social commentary through the variety of topics performed. This is in hopes of inspiring and educating while providing artistic entertainment. Some of our previous events showcased poetic talents that discussed teenage self-esteem, the hardships faced by immigrants and aboriginal rights.
The diversity of the topics and the poets presenting them, demonstrated the power of art as a tool to inspire conversation that their poetry spurred resulted in community action. The art of the spoken word is a powerful medium that benefits everyone, especially marginalized communities that need to share their thoughts with the wider public. One’s voice through an arts medium can travel much further, and touch the hearts and minds of people from all walks of life more deeply and intensely than a brochure handed at the corner of an intersection ever could. Well before the era of broadcast journalism and the internet, poetry was the primary and most effective medium used to spread messages to the public. The power of poetic words resonate with many people, delivering a different kind of motivation that no modernity could speak to.
At its core of creating a space that welcomes all, SPEAKout upholds three main values that all performances must adhere to:
- Inspire Respect: No profanity, racial slurs or explicit sexual material is allowed in performances. Since all SPEAKout events are open to EVERYONE in the community, inclusive and culturally sensitive language is highly encouraged.
- Entertain with Purpose: There must be a message behind the verse. Similarly, spoken word goes beyond scribed words. It is more than just poetry. Spoken word is a live and independent commentary for people, by people.
- Connect Community: Use words as a bridge that connects a mosaic of people by striving to find overlap or similarities between communities. We believe words are the bridge between heart and hand – that the first change that takes place is in the heart and mind. Poetry is not the end, it is just the beginning.
Difficulties definitely exist in doing this kind of work, just like with any other grassroots initiatives aiming to establish its brand, cover expenses and deal with communication issues. But to see hard work pay off and a goal achieved makes all the struggles worthwhile. SPEAKout continues to grow with more poetry slams that establishes its brand across various cities in Ontario, Canada attracting an average audience of 200 – 300 people. In the past year, it began a set of spoken word workshops that focus on using the skills of the poet as transferable skills required in our everyday lives. Its newest branch that launched this October is “Ideas Worth Rhyming” – a spoken word festival “Where Art meets Action.” Artists share the inspiration to transform, Change Makers show the path to action, and it is up to the audience to move the ideas forward.
Where SPEAKout will be in the next few years is something I really can’t nail down. The past 4 years have been an unexpected roller coaster ride, which made the ride more scary, but also more exciting. All I can say is: As long as there is a will to do, it will happen.
Stay Positive. SPEAKout!