On Sept. 29, 2005, four writers sat in a café in downtown Victoria, wondering if anyone would come to the Tongues of Fire spoken word night they had organized for National Liberate Your Voice Day. This Tuesday, 10 years later to the day, Tongues of Fire (ToF) is now a regular series celebrating its 10th anniversary as ground zero for spoken word poetry in Victoria.
Spoken word poetry, a flexible art form which includes a wide variety of written-for-performance writing, has been gaining attention in recent years. However, when Tongues of Fire began in 2005, there was a spoken-word shaped hole in Victoria.
“There wasn’t really any kind of spoken word community,” ToF co-founder Steven J. Thompson recalls. “There was actually this kind of a vacuum there.” At the first show, Thompson and the other organizers had no idea who would show up, but he describes it as an “‘if you build it they will come’ kind of moment” as people started “flooding in the doors,” and the group decided to keep organizing events for as long as people would come to them.
Tongues of Fire has been going strong ever since, and has integrated itself into Victoria’s artistic community. Thompson proudly notes that many poets from the scene have gone on to establish themselves as writers and performers, and even one as a city councillor. “Either we’ve sold out, or we’ve taken over the political system,” he jokes.
Running the second and fourth Thursdays each month out of the Solstice Café on Lower Pandora, Tongues of Fire shows typically comprise an open mic followed by a feature performance by a notable visiting or local poet. The ToF family has also grown over the years to spawn a regular season of poetry slams, as well as youth outreach programming and youth slams. The shows provide an opportunity for veteran and novice poets to mingle, enjoy poetry, and learn from one another.
According to Thompson, this sense of fostering new voices has been important to the ToF community from the beginning. “It’s been interesting to see the growth in people, as time goes by,” he says about watching a generation of young performers grow up in the ToF family. “I have seen people evolve from quiet and shy and not really knowing who they are, to being more confident.”
As Tongues of Fire has reached birthing age, many of these capable poets and organizers have grown into and out of the spoken word community and taken over leadership from Thompson and the rest of the founding gang. Still, Thompson has an opportunity to revisit the history of Tongues of Fire as the organizer for its 10th anniversary show. The event will feature celebrated poets Sheri-D Wilson, at whose workshop Thompson and the other founders met; and R.C. Weslowski, who played an important role in getting the first ToF season off the ground. The ceremonies will also include a showcase of old ToF memorabilia, recognition for treasured members of the ToF community, and a few surprises. For those who have been involved with Tongues of Fire over the years, this is a chance to celebrate a shared heritage. But even if you’ve never been to a spoken word show before, Thompson says, this is an opportunity to see “two of the best spoken word artists in Canada, at the top of their game, and that’s a great start.”
The Tongues of Fire 10th anniversary show is on Tuesday, Sept. 29, at the Ambrosia Centre at 638 Fisgard Street. Early-bird tickets are $15 online at eventbrite.ca, and door tickets will be $20 the night of. Regular Tongues of Fire shows, season poetry slams, or youth slams happen every Thursday at Solstice Café.
Annie LePage is occasionally employed by Victoria Poetry Project, an umbrella organization that includes Tongues of Fire.