Sunday, February 04, 2007

we're done

I am now home from iWPS. I didn't travel as far to get there as most of the people who came, but it has been a journey. After two years of thinking, planning, hoping, arguing, laughing and thanking God and my lucky stars more than once, we did it.

Finals Night was unbelievable. I kept wondering if it was really happening. I kept worrying that I would feel terribly sad when it was over. Then there I was, witnessing a world class poetry competition in the Rio Theatre, where we go to watch movies, in a neighbourhood not far from my home, with my friends around me, all breathing out and saying, "yes! we did it!"

Getting the audience into the sold out theatre was the only stressful part of the evening from what I could tell. Sean McGarragle, our venue coordinator for the evening, marshalled the jigsaw puzzle filling of every seat in the house, while 150 hopefuls stood outside, chilling in the rush ticket line, hoping to grab a seat left vacant by a no-show. A stream of poets went outside to entertain the people who were waiting and hoping to get in. Somebody said, "They never do that at rock concerts, do they?" Staff at the Rio helped us find and fill every nook and cranny so at least some of the people in the lineup had their wishes granted. Even with all that, the show began almost on time.

The competition was incredible. All of the sounds and thoughts from the performance are tumbled together in my head and echoing in my ears, waiting to be untangled. Luckily I wrote down a thought or a few words about each poem I heard so I can remember. I can only think that the judges had an impossible task, discerning who was the best. Judging is hard.

The show was tight and not long, with negligible breaks. Our lovely, lovely volunteers scooted out to the lobby whenever a handful of audience needed snacks or beer or wanted to buy books or cds at the merch table, then scooted back in to enjoy the show. At the end, the tournament organizers invited the host city people (that's us) up on stage for recognition. All through the days of this festival, thanks and praise from poets, officials and audience members has been lavished on us. It feels good to know that we made the right choices and worked hard on the right things to make sure people felt welcome, and the tournament ran smoothly. They clapped and cheered for us on stage. We gave our Artistic Direct, Angus Adair, a special gift - a festival jacket for him to remember his triumph. Then they announced the winners. Ed Mabrey from Columbus Ohio took first place. All of the poets came up on stage and there we were, at the end.

After the show, people stayed for about an hour, visiting in the lobby and on the sidewalk, and participating in the open mic, hosted by RC Weslowski, who put up with the laundry basket loads of heckling we've been saving up all week (we have been pretening to be nice while the Americans visited). Then we headed off to a house party which probably went on all night, although I stayed for just an hour.

I mentioned that I started the evening worried that I would feel terribly sad when it was over. I was surprised to find that I am not sad. At the end of the Canadian Festival of Spoken Word (the festival that we organized a year and a half ago) I felt like the day after Christmas. I sat in the dark at finals night, crying my eyes out. Last night I just felt happy and proud and relieved that it all went off without any major hitches. Today I am home, and glad to be here. I am filled up with poetry and friendship and the satisfaction of a job well done. I think there are a couple of reasons for this different reaction. I guess that iWPS is our second "baby" of a festival, and so easier to enjoy without fear, and also less mind-blowing because I knew what to expect. It's a mellower feeling, more philosophical and less raw, to contemplate what this one means. More importantly, this was really someone else's show. Poetry Slam Incorporated brought the competition here, and we, as host city staff, built a festival around it. Our role as organizers was different. Ownership, if you can call it that, was more at arm's length. The poets and other people were lovely, but fewer were people who I know well and care about deeply. I am less sad to see them all disperse. Finally, I know that Van Po House is a thing of beauty and value that will go on. At the end of CFSW I felt less so that way, even though we already knew we were committed to iWPS less than two years from that time. This second time around has shown us that we can do anything. I'm looking forward to finding out what's next.

Thinking about this helps me know that the important thing about all of this for me is the people who I have worked with to make it happen. Angus, Sean, Randy, Jim, and Steve and all of the other Poetry House friends who contributed to this project are the real poetry in this story. Unlike the poem fragments that are tangled up in my head from one big night, these people are solidly installed in my heart. I am grateful to work with them and be one of them. Thinking about that is the only thing that will make me cry. And it's happy crying.

Question: you make up the question

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