From November 30 to December 1, Riverside held its first Spoken Word festival of the year featuring students from first semester English classes. Each year, in every English class, students must write and present a slam poem or rant to their class, and the outstanding performances then present in front of the school. These students are then given scores by a panel of judges and those with the top scores in their respective grades are sent to the District Finals. Representing the grade nines at Districts this year were Karly Traub and Emily Balic Krueger, who both received silver medals for their poems “Technology is a Drug” and “Living Your Life to the Fullest”. Grade ten students Janna Grant and Clare Nobel took home gold with their poems “Yellow” and “Unreal”, along with grade eleven students Bryn Tomlins who took home silver (“’Perks’ of Being Tall”) and Rafael Sevilla (“Why Can’t We Be More Honest”). More notably, however, is the three students who were chosen to compete in the grade twelve category: Lauren Watson (“My Evolution of Fear”), Fraser Rostad (“How Are You”), and Jae Wagoneer (“My Father, My Dad”) all walking away from the Festival with perfect scores of 20. Rostad and Wagoneer both won silver.

Janna Grant, Clare Nobel (right) with their gold medals.
Judges: Ms. Tate, Ms. Leonard, and Mr. Ahmelich.

Riverside began doing Spoken Word in 2007, but back then it was a small event. Students and some teachers gathered in two adjoining classrooms and listened to a few interested students perform slam poems. The festival was less a competition and more a showcase, open to any student who wanted to join. By 2009, nearly 80 students signed up, so the department switched to the competition format in 2010. Hullaballoo, a company that has roots in youth slam poetry all over the country, helped build up the culture of Spoken Word we know today, going so far as to send one of their own accomplished poets to MC and warm up the crowd at the 11/12 competition (this year it was RC Weslowski from the Vancouver Poetry House). By 2012, the Spoken Word Festivals were a staple to the school.

It assuredly says something about Riverside’s culture that we respond to Spoken Word with such vigor and excitement. There are few things more personal than standing up in front of your peers and presenting a poem that you wrote yourself, and the fact that almost every single student does so every year is incredible. More than anything else, we are a community – students and teachers alike. There are few (if not none) spoken word presentations that are met with harsh criticism, and the mistakes of a presenter are not met with silence but overwhelming support in the form of snaps and cheering. At Riverside, the support for anybody gutsy enough to stand up and speak their personal truths is unparalleled, a fact we should be proud of.

This year, the Spoken Word Festival was livestreamed on YouTube via the Riverside channel, a new tradition that is hoped to continue into future years. You can see the livestream and watch the winning performances here.