From the 7th to the 15th of May, the 15th edition of the Grand Poetry Slam – the World’s Slam Poetry Competition – will take place in Paris, organized by the French Federation of Slam Poetry.
This year’s edition of the Slam Competition, however, has taken a sour turn after the organizers decided to ban Swedish-Danish poet and European Slam Champion, Frej Haar. Since that episode, over a month ago, the Polish poet Rudka has also been banned and a series of poets have, some publicly and some privately, boycotted the competition and won’t be attending the Grand Poetry Slam. But what exactly happened?
What went down:
The issue came to public attention when Frej Haar published on their Facebook profile, an email exchange between them and the organizers of the championship. The main problem was the 19 hour flight booked for Frej from Sweden to Paris with a 14 hour layover in Riga, with no food or accommodation provided, and with no prior warning given to the poet. The full email exchange can be seen here and it culminated in Frej being banned from the competition all together after posting the exchange on social media. The post, shared by many poets, organizers, and artists from different countries, gathered some attention and this is when the Grand Poetry Slam re-entered the conversation.
In comments now deleted, and in direct confrontation with other poets, the page “Grand Poetry Slam” has said, among other things “The post you do here on Facebook is disgusting for the audience of our Facebook community. We don’t what to offer that kind of bullshit to our audience (…) I am sure some of you are good spoken word artist[s] but I think that you understand [k]now that we don’t need “good spoken word artists”, we need people who are in the same state of mind as us (…)”. During the long exchange, which is now reduced to replies from everyone apart from Grand Poetry Slam, the organization insulted most of the commentators, repeated several times it doesn’t need the artists, and threatened to ban Polish Rudka Zydel from the Slam Competition, which did happen.
Following the conversation taking place in Frej’s post, the Polish organizers received an email, in which Rudka Zydel was put in cc but not approached, from the competition’s director Mr. Pilote le Hot/ Binard – who appears listed on the official website as ‘Consultant’ – stating that Rudka’s insults had granted her a bar from the competition, insisting that “The organisers made the rules for the audience and not for the poets who don’t want to participate. If because of this this we lose 50 per cent of the poets so what!..Peace is priceless!” .
Since then, Guerrilla Resistance has tried to get in touch with both current and former participants of the event, and its organizers, with an open call on our social media platforms, and via messaging inside and out social media.
Who is organizing the competition?
Many people have come forward, most of whom prefer to stay anonymous to avoid retaliations from FFSP and, more specifically, from Pilote. Guerrilla Resistance has reached out to the organizers, mentioning the situation and the possible article, with a series of questions on the organization’s funding, functioning, membership, and more specifically, about the incidents that culminated in the expulsion of some poets from the competition and the only reply we have received has been: “The only thing you have to know is that those 2 poets have insulted us on a public social media before to be banned and that it is the only reason why they have been banned for.”. As of today, the 3rd of May, all Facebook comments made by FFSP/Grand Poetry Slam, in the posts referred to above, have been deleted or made invisible.
The Fédération Française de Slam Poésie is the non-for-profit in charge of representing the international coalition of Slam Poetry. In their website, they state their mission to be the “expansion of slam poetry as an art form”, emerging “not only as an administrative body to maintain the rules that govern slam poetry, but as an organization that looks to expand the public and protect the interests” of slam poetry as a practice. Their executive board is constituted of seven members who vote in local competitions and “ensure the maintenance of Slam scenes all over the world, ensuring that Slam Poetry remains an art form open to all participants and competitors”, with the objectives of discussing ideas and share creative resources.
What are people saying?
Despite the organization’s intentions, some poets have told us it is not the first time something like this happened. One of our sources said that in the competition’s previous year Mr. Pilote almost turned violent on a female volunteer. Instances of humiliation, name-calling, screaming, were part of the testimonies from several of those who reached out to Guerrilla Resistance. Several uncomfortable situations with poor accommodation or no accommodation at all, lack of hygienic conditions and food, were also mentioned.
Regarding the competition itself, several have pointed out the organizers’ lack of preparation, with problems with translations and technical difficulties, and mostly with neutrality, with an example coming from two years ago where Pilote publicly announced at the competition his preference for the French poet. Even among organizers from other countries, the news don’t come as a surprise. Belgian coordinator of the European informal network, Philip Meersman commented on the lack of set rules and language barriers in the competition, last year’s situation in which the Quebec champion was insulted, and the many comments he has heard from African and Latin-American countries regarding Mr. Pilote’s allegedly ‘colonialist attitude.
What happens now?
So far, for the competition scheduled to start this Monday, the 7th of May, the Swedish and Polish competitors have been banned, Slovenia and Hungary have not been invited, most African competitors have not been included, and the Spanish, Italian, Finnish, Italian, and Norwegian poets have stepped down in a boycott supporting artists’ rights.
Meanwhile an informal group of artists and organizers from around the world is seeking to set up a truer and jointly organised world championship with a clear and participatory agreed upon set of written rules, a more humane and understanding approach towards the participating artists, and of a more inclusive character. The issue, of course, is funding; creating an inclusive and open world championship of slam poetry involves meetings, travelling, and budgets, that many national federations or organisations cannot sustain.
As for us, we wish all the poets the best of luck, whether they are competing or not, in their artistic pursuits, and all organizers, and all interested organizers the strength necessary to face injustice and build a truly inclusive championship.