For many writers, poetry is a way to express their innermost thoughts and feelings. It has the power to cause social change,   act as an avenue for writers to bare their souls and it helps us better understand each other.

Ink Spot Collective, a slam poetry organization based in Calgary, fosters a community where poetry writers and lovers alike join forces to compete in the name of freedom of expression.

Canadian poet and author, Sheri-D Wilson founded Ink Spot Collective because she believes poetry has the potential to influence change.  “With the world the way it is right now, poets need to take a leadership role, which is a whole new thing because in North America poets were always shunned, things are changing,” she says.

Ink Spot Collective came into the Calgary scene when they started organizing various slam and open-mic events. Every month, poets from all over the city gather together for a chance to express themselves in front of a room full of strangers. Three rounds and a few drinks later, one poet gets to walk away the winner.

Wilson is often attributed as being the first to bring competitive slam poetry to Calgary – however, there were times when she questioned the sport.

“Being a spoken word artist, I wasn’t sure about the competitive aspect and whether I was really interested in seeing people compete with poetry,” Wilson says. “After they gave me the award [Poet of Honor in the National Slam], I really liked hearing all of these slam artists from all over Canada … I came back and I decided I’ll start the slam in Calgary.”

Babs Penhale, an Ink Spot Collective organizer, has experienced the lightly competitive nature of slam poetry first-hand. She attributes much of the blossoming success of slam events in the city to the excitement of competition, and while competition may bring out some ugliness in most cases, that doesn’t seem to be an issue at their events. In fact, the competitive side of poetry has proven to be incredibly successful.

“Slam started as a way to get people interested in narrative and beat poetry, and competition makes people interested and brings a structure that makes people want to get involved,” says Penhale.

“It’s just a structure for something that is so much more than that. It’s a community of writers who support each other, and work really hard to make each other better.”

Every year, Ink Spot Collective selects five poets from its pool of slam winners to represent Calgary at the Canadian Festival of Spoken Word. The group also sends individual slammers to the Canadian Individual Poetry Slam Championships, the winners of which get to compete for Canada at the Poetry World Cup in Paris.

Shafraz “Shaf” Ladak, a slam poet and Ink Spot Collective’s social media manager, represented Calgary in the Canadian Individual Poetry Slam Championships in April 2016.

“I tied for 11th in the country there and I was really proud of that because I’ve never been to that festival before,” says Ladak.  … “That’s definitely the highlight of my poetry career.”

Many first-time attendees admire  the  confidence and lack of fear shown by the poets at competitions. Marc Lambert attended  one of Ink Spot’s poetry events last year to support his friend who was there performing for the first time.

“These people are brave,” he says. “Some of it’s personal – probably all of it’s personal!”

For those seeking to experience Calgary’s most talented wordsmiths at work, Ink Spot Collective’s next slam is at Dickens Pub on Feb. 26 at 7:30 p.m., with tickets going for $10 at the door.

By Qassim Merali and Hadeel Abdel-Nabi

Editor: Jennie Price | jprice@cjournal.ca