Phog Lounge, April 25, 2017
The evening of April 25th, The Windsor Poetry Slam competition, hosted (as usual) by Phog Lounge, featured Amilcar John Nogueira with a pink flower in his hair accidentally throwing his poetry everywhere. This isn’t a fancy way to say he was performing; he literally lost half his notes to the crowd in front of him.
But he was main event. Let’s back up.
With 5$ cover, and purchasable chapbooks on display, the entry way at Phog is the most well lit section of the bar, except for the stage and the window behind it hung with festival lights—one or two burnt out, hanging bulbs of glass. The near-darkness is compounded by the erratic art pieces that line the walls. Oil paintings: some look like comets, thickly daubed with bright orange, yellow, vibrant reds, others grey and heavy like storm clouds that roll over Windsor in April.
I get some cash out, buy a beer that tastes vaguely like mango, and perch on a speaker near the bar. The front of Phog near the stage is crowded, without even an extra stool. Closer to the ATM, customers half listen to the poetry, playing board games or trying to coax something like a song out of the old piano. I wiggle uncomfortably on the speaker and tune in to the first round of slam poems. I’ve gotten here late, but I walk in to Nathanya Barnett’s angry voice insisting that there’s something wrong if in a world where people tell her feminism is unneeded, the only way she feels safe walking home at 2 am is if her brother is on the phone.
Here’s how the night works, according to the Windsor Slam Poetry Facebook event’s guidelines: two rounds of three minute original poems, with the highest scored poets advancing to the second and final round, and competing for the cash prize. Every time a new voice takes the stage, someone in the crowd yells, “go poet!
These slams are heavy hitting, and politically engaged, placing metaphorical fingers on the pulse of what’s happening just across our river, but simultaneously intimate and personal. E-Tomic lays down a letter to a father who won’t accept a son who wants to be a daughter. Kat Moscone interrogates her name, and what it means in other’s mouths, Sam Spiering welcomes us into his poetic process and asks us to think about how writing shifts our states of mind. Anthony D’Alessandro slams (almost rapping) war, rejection of refugees, ironic double standards and people who think saying “happy holidays” instead of “merry Christmas” is a crime against humanity. Other poets speak heartbreak, body positivity, and occupy resistance to marginalized experiences. Whenever a verse hits home, snapping comes from the crowd; some whoops, some yes’s as these poets spits truth to power, or at least to a bar full of likeminded creatures.
After round one has been exhausted, Amilcar walks up to the stage for the intermission. “You know you’ve made it when your name is in a cloud,” he says, gesturing to the sign behind him which features his name in a white circle. He launches into a sexy poem I’ve never heard, eliciting cheers from the audience and (he tells me later this was his strategy) grabbing our attention from the outset with a poem that he says he “definitely would not have read if his mom had come.”
Amilcar shifts gears, and reads from his published work in Generation Magazine, plugs chapbooks that he’s selling at the back (only five dollars! the audience chants with him). Next is a poem called Presence—essentially a collection of is/was/will be’s—for his thesis advisor, Nicole Markotić, who hates “to be” verbs and removes them whenever she can. Self-deprecating humour, a quirky, engaging stage presence, and 5 or 6 poems that echo Windsor, but aren’t confined to its borders finish Amilcar’s feature. The audience helps him retrieve his scattered papers, and I finish my beer, cheering enthusiastically for round two and the poets going on: Kat, E-Tomic, Anthony, Nathanya, and Sam.
Each presents one more poem before the judges take a quick break to tally scores. I applaud their bravery, their voices, the passion that comes through whether slamming an honest letter to their mom (Nathanya) or describing the fear of having a wet dream in public (Anthony) and the MC who introduces each poet insists after their score that we the audience “applaud the poet, not the score.”
The competition ends with Kat Moscone in third place, E-Tomic Johnson with second, and Anthony D’Alessandro taking first. Unsurprisingly, Anthony is headed to Vancouver in the next couple of days to represent Windsor in the Verses Festival of Words hosted by the Canadian Individual Poetry Slam (head to Windsor Poetry Slam’s Facebook page for more information on that event).
The bar resets itself after the prize money has been given out, and people relax into their drinks, or wander over to where Amilcar runs his chapbook table. Windsor Slam will be back next month, a dedicated and key contributor to Windsor’s literary scene.
For more information, visit Windsor Poetry Slam on Facebook. All pictures have been used with permission from their Facebook page, and taken by Tyler Stenlund. See his photos at Stenlund Photography.
By Hannah Watts
Hannah Watts just finished her MA creative thesis in English and Creative Writing at the University of Windsor (on cyborgs, weird skype bebes, and duck collecting Englishmen). She is an editor at ZED Press, and has been published by Flat Singles Press, and Cosmonauts Avenue. In her spare time she can be found kicking people into kayaks, or teaching magic to small children.