Two Years Of Spoken Word St. John’s – A Conversation With Allie Duff
Spoken Word St. John’s is celebrating its 2-year anniversary this Sunday, and you can be a part of the poetry party. Join them at 7:30 PM @ The Ship Pub for an engaging night of verse and poesy, and you might just find yourself bearing your soul, or even telling a silly limerick. I had a chance to chat with organizer and co-founder Allie Duff about the impact Spoken Word St. John’s has had on the local poetry community, and where poets fit in the delicate ecosystem that is the St. John’s arts community.
Can you first give me a description of what spurred the creation of Spoken Word St. John’s?
Lori Beck was a huge part of the creation. It all started when Lori, Len O’Neill and I tried to start an editing group but we all had different visions of what that should look like — I wanted it to be open to everyone since there seemed to be no similar venue for new poets in St. John’s to share their work. So Lori and I planned the first open mic at Fixed and it just took off from there.
How does SWSJ help to foster a community of poets in St. John’s?
The open mic nights provide both new and established poets a place to share their writing and to network a little bit. I don’t think there’s anywhere else (correct me if I’m wrong) where a person reading to an audience for the first time can share the stage with a seasoned writer like Mark Callanan or Leslie Vryenhoek, two former featured readers.
What kind of support is out there for poets in this city attempting to share their work?
The Writer’s Alliance is a great resource. If you’re a member, you get constant updates about workshops happening in the city. And there are fantastic creative writing profs and courses at MUN (although I know university isn’t for everyone). SWSJ is also hoping to host workshops at some point.
What advice, if any, would you give to an individual who feels uneasy about reading their work in front of a group of strangers?
I can’t speak for all audiences, but the ‘strangers’ at our open mic nights all love poetry and are incredibly supportive — usually at least a quarter or even half of the audience end up reading! If it’s a person’s first time reading, and they want to attend the open mic, I usually suggest watching the first half of the show and then signing up at the break; after seeing how relaxed the atmosphere is, most people want to sign up. The audience is appreciative and supportive, so there’s nothing to fear!
St. John’s seems to be a very music-focused city when it comes to the arts. After two years of organizing these events, do you think that there is an under-representation of poets in the arts community here?
There definitely aren’t enough venues for new poets who want to read aloud on a regular basis. The writer’s alliance does great work showcasing established poets. And the March Hare (an annual literary festival) always has a slot for a new poet to read, although that usually happens in their Corner Brook venues. I also love that Lawnya Vawnya showcased a number of poets. Overall, I don’t think poets are under-represented, especially not those who publish their work. However, I think new poets often struggle to find a place to get feedback on their work and/or share it publicly.
What does the future hold for SWSJ?
I’m hoping for workshops and to host more readings apart from the open mic. Riley Palanca has mentioned planning a slam, which I hope SWSJ can help with. In the long run, though, I’m hoping for a festival and an annual publication or video series.
Finally, Adam Critchley: great emcee or greatest emcee?
He’s hilarious! Whenever I host I get too nervous to say much besides the facts, but Adam brings wit and stage presence when he hosts. On the 26th we’ll likely be co-hosting for the first time.