Vic High team wins for second year, as 12 teams compete in three-day event
Inside a red-brick building sandwiched between a skateboard shop and night club, Jeremy Loveday takes the stage and is greeted by a crowd of parents and teenagers snapping their fingers and screaming from the top of their lungs.
“We love you, Jeremy!”, “We love Loveday!”, “No, I love Loveday!”
The decibel level rises inside the Victoria Event Centre, as over 200 poets and fans squeeze into the dimly lit venue.
Teams sit at hardwood tables, some sway with the music, while others read from the screens of their phones or scraps of paper from their journals.
It’s a lively setting with a cacophony of sound — a mixture of club music, side conversations, and last-minute rehearsals.
Loveday grabs the mic, and a great big smile floods his face. For a moment the music and practicing quiet. His curly brown hair is slicked back, and though there’s a slight sign of fatigue in his emerald green eyes, he doesn’t let it show while welcoming the contestants to the stage.
“I wanted to dedicate myself to creating a youth spoken word program in the city. I saw that was a gap and something I felt that would have helped me when I was a teenager growing up here.”
Tonight is the culmination of months of hard work; tonight, dozens of high school students across Victoria are given a chance to express themselves. Tonight, those hours of writing, rewriting, and writing again will be showcased for a live audience.
Tonight is the finals of Victorious Voices spoken word championships.
10 years ago, Loveday could only dream of nights like this.
“When I moved back [to Victoria] I wanted to dedicate myself to creating a youth spoken word program in the city. I saw that was a gap and something I felt that would have helped me when I was a teenager growing up here, and something I didn’t have access to.”
Loveday approached Brad Cunningham, a teacher at Reynolds high school, and the pair organized Victoria’s first high school poetry slam.
The first slam included only three teams from Reynolds, and was held in the school’s theatre. After a few years, however, Loveday had sights on expanding the event and turning it into a celebration of youth poetry in Victoria.
“We decided to make it more of a festival, and brought it downtown. We added a public component to it that allowed the public to see the talent and powerful young voices that deserve to be heard.”
In the 10 years since the festival started, the event has grown from three teams from one school to 12 teams from several high schools, one as far away as Chemainus.
“This is our biggest year yet, we’ve got 11 schools and 12 teams. I think the most we’ve ever had was 10, and I think that shows the way it’s growing organically and that schools are seeing this is an opportunity to make their poetry curriculum relevant and interesting, and a way to engage outside of the classroom using the tools they’re using in the classroom,” says Loveday.
In addition to the poetry competition, the event focuses on promoting poetry through workshops and alumni events.
Ian Keteku, a two-time national slam poetry champion and 2010 World poetry slam champion, and Alessandra Naccarato, a CBC Poetry Prize winner, visited four schools to teach the forms and techniques of slam poetry.
“I’ve definitely had young people tell me that [spoken word] saved their lives, … being able to have that outlet and to have that space to create.
In his opening remarks on the final day of the festival — before the four finalists from Victoria High, Reynolds, Esquimalt, and Artemis Place squared off for the right to call themselves the Island’s best youth slam team — Loveday proudly announced that Victorious Voices had brought spoken word poetry to nearly two thousand people in the three days the event was held.
In the four-round final duel, each four-member team was allotted three minutes to perform an individual piece, before gathering on stage to execute a team performance. A panel of judges handed out scores from 0-10, and the grades from each individual and team performance would be tallied to crown the 2019 Victorious Voices champion.
Vic High were declared champions, but Loveday admits that just seeing a room full of people cheering, applauding, and (sometimes raucously) snapping for today’s young poets is all the justification he needs for helping organize this event year after year.
“I’ve definitely had young people tell me that [spoken word] saved their lives, not necessarily the festival, but being able to have that outlet and to have that space to create. So, anytime you hear something like that, you’re like ‘ok, this is why I do this.’”