Department of Writing student Anna-Maria Landis has been named Alumnus of Honour for Victorious Voices, Victoria’s annual Secondary School Slam Championships.
A high-energy youth poetry festival that is widely recognized in the poetry community as one of the most inspiring and entertaining events of the year, Victorious Voices runs April 15 to 17 in Victoria and will feature performances not only by Landis but also Youth Poet Laureate and fellow Writing student Aysia Law.
Landis, a first-year Writing student, has maintained her ties with Reynolds Secondary School through her weekly coaching sessions with their current slam team. “I’ve been encouraging them to keep writing, helping them to become a cohesive team, to think outside the box,” says Landis. “I’m trying to keep that poetry motivation alive at Reynolds; it’s important to have older students going back, for them to have those role models.”
It must be working, as the Reynolds slam team just came in second at Hullabaloo, the annual provincial youth poetry slam. “It’s pretty amazing how supportive other students are of hearing their friends read poetry,” she continues. “It kind of blows my mind.” She says slam is the ideal vehicle for high school expression. “All those hard feelings, those things that make you feel like a melodramatic teenager, you’re able to get out at a slam.”
Landis says she was inspired to begin performing poetry during her years at Reynolds thanks to visits by noted spoken word artists like The Fugitives and Shane Koyczan, who were brought in by English teacher Brad Cunningham. “I wasn’t even in his class,” she laughs, “but then I started going to [local slam collective] Tongues of Fire—that really sparked the interest for me—then we started our own slam team at Reynolds.”
She continues to be surprised by the level of support for spoken word at Reynolds. “We would have open mics at lunch hour and it was insane—a hundred high school students would come out and watch people read poetry,” she recalls. “Having that community from the get go gave a sense of momentum; you could express yourself through poetry. Most people in high school don’t usually perform poetry, it’s more a private thing.”
Landis and Law are not the only UVic students who will be performing new work at Victorious Voices; also among the six others on the bill for the April 16 “Still Victorious” Alumni Showcase is two-time Victorious Voices champion and former Reynolds student Zoe Duhaime, who is now studying “healthy sexuality, women’s studies, philosophy and English at UVic (but admits she spent most of this year “messing around in vague but wonderful Humanities courses”). And Writing grad Danielle Pope is one of the judges for the Finals.
Back on campus, Landis entered this video poem about her at-times difficult relationship with her mother in this year’s UVic Diversity Poetry Contest. “It was a huge risk the first time I performed it,” she admits. “But you get that taste of writing about people you know, which is scary, because of how it can affect them. Then it became the poem I was really known for, and I heard from a lot of moms who said they needed to hear things from that perspective.”
As for her career in the Writing department, Landis says it was a foregone conclusion. “My goal in life is to write and I knew if I was going to do anything academic that wasn’t writing, I’d get distracted from that goal,” she says. “Writing is my priority, and I’d heard so many good things about UVic’s program.”
But surprisingly, she isn’t focusing on poetry at this point. “I don’t know if I could do poetry in an academic setting,” she says with a chuckle. “A lot of the skills I’ve been learning seem to lend themselves more toward fiction. I find it really hard to confine poetry to the page; I like spoken word as a venue better.”
Victorious Voices: Semi-finals are at 7pm Monday, April 15, at the Victoria Event Centre on Broad Street. Still Victorious, the Alumni Showcase, starts 7:30pm Tuesday, April 16 at Solstice Café. Finals, featuring an opening poem by Victoria Poet Laureate Janet Rogers and the Alumnus of Honour Showcase, starts 7:30pm Wednesday, April 17 at the Event Centre.