Half Empty, Since 1998

An interview with VINCENT TINGUELY, co-author of Impure, Reinventing the Word, a massive book about the theory, practice and history of spoken word.

Lexically Dumb, Damn Word Smart

Nathaniel G. Moore. March 11th, 2001
Shouting

The Night and Day Rise and Rising of Spoken Word Publishing… Conundrum Press has launched Impure, Reinventing the Word, a massive book about the theory, practice and history of spoken word.

New book spreads the word on the words that get said. Never has a medium meant so much to such a specific group of people. If that sounds confusing your likely reading something about the small press world in Canada, a world which by and large is run by showstoppers, beautifully minded books and book art, CD’s or live art, and now a little bit of both. Conundrum Press has published what could be the defining stance on Spoken Word. If you are a lowlife and don’t know what spoken word is and are saying ‘you mean its just talking right?’ you are likely sitting in a pool of bad taste somewhere. Probably watching television and talking on the phone. I’m just trying to weed out the idiots please. Okay so listen. Vince Tinguely and Victoria Stanton had the unenviable task of putting together the verdict on spoken word, particularly in Montreal. What happened was this: interviews, essays, etc. Maybe it wasn’t unenviable.


I’m a poet. I also used to play hockey. Poetry and identity are closely stitched. On the same arm. Poetry on its own has an identity in the literary community; any literary community. Poetry is old. Why it is written and how has been documented in sterile and clinical ways for centuries. It’s changed.

The art of spoken word is perhaps the most unknown yet potent of all literary forms. Its an instant hit, a well calculated incision on the performance of word art, the performance of something written down prior to its performance. Sometimes. I had a chance to pick the brain of one of Montreal’s spoken word guardians, Vincent Tinguely, co-author (with Victoria Stanton) of a new book that documents this medium in book form. Feedback. Clear throat. Technicians and wait staff disappears. The words come.

Moore: Originally when you sat down with this idea, how involved did you think you’d become? (include what was involved, who you definitely needed words from and why, etc…behind the scenes)

Tinguely: The idea sort of sat down with us, rather than us sitting down with the idea. Hal Niedzviecki suggested or requested an article about spoken word in Montreal in the summer of 1997. We quickly interviewed 18 people we knew from our own involvement as spoken word performers, and the more we talked with folks, the more we realized the real depth (in time) and breadth (in various communities practicing spoken word) of the whole scene in Montreal. We ended up with so much more research material than we could use in the original article, that people started suggesting we do a book. So, a year and a bit later, when we got the grant and started doing interviews, we had an idea that it would be huge. We did over seventy interviews, and there were still a good number of people we missed out on. People that we thought we really should talk to, who we didn’t get around to due to circumstances, or because they weren’t into it. As it is, we got to talk to a huge number of folks, and got a fairly good sense of spoken word activity in Montreal since the sixties. Everything we found out about the francophone, Quebecois scene was news to me, I’m really glad we interviewed those francophone performers and got them translated, I think other English-speaking Canadians will be interested in what they’ve got to say. Much of what we learned about the seventies and eighties was also a learning experience. All I knew about, before we started this project, was the scene I was personally involved in, in the mid-nineties, and the people I encountered in that scene. The rest of it was a great discovery. So, we weren’t totally sure, to begin with, who we needed to speak to. We just started interviews, and names would come up here and there, and we’d interview them, more names, more interviews, until we were completely exhausted.

How is Montreal different for Spoken Word than other cities?

One reason we did our book about the Montreal scene, is because we actually know something about it. We don’t know anything, really, about other cities. Both Toronto and Vancouver have scenes, with some similarities (Vancouver got into Slam in a big way, for instance, while Toronto has a nice dub poetry and hip-hop poetry scene). One difference is the language thing, of course – there’s two quite different poetry / performance traditions happening in parallel here, and it still amazes me how little English people check out French things and vice-versa. I mean, English people who live here! One aspect of the Montreal spoken word scene was that it managed to break down those barriers. French and English, black and white, queer and straight, men and women performers were all thrown together in a wordy melange. It’s an ideal to aim for. It makes shit happen.

What bugs you the most about Spoken Word’s reputation, is a lack there of?(e.g. the annoying guy who says what is that? and points like a goblin)

We hashed this out pretty thoroughly in the book, in a section called ‘Is Spoken Word Literature?’ I guess what annoys me is the implication that it doesn’t take any talent to get onstage and talk about stuff. But anybody who does it – whether reading a page of their book, or doing handstands while shouting philosophical epithets – knows how tough it is.

Do you hope this book will encourage people to visit Montreal for these sort of venues?

That’d be nice, but we’re more interested in people reading the book and getting their own spoken word scenes going. (More than half of the book is basically a ‘how-to’ guide to doing spoken word, from the ground up). Then we can all have venues to book when we feel like touring around the country. As it stands, the communication between different scenes in different cities is still really rudimentary. I think the history / chronology section might give Montreal a certain mythic quality, and deservedly so.