Tineka Francois

Finalist: Tineka Francois is one of seven women in the First Citizens National Poetry Slam final, which also features six men.

Seven first-time finalists, four of them competition newbies, are among 12 set to face defending champion Alexandra Stewart at the First Citizens National Poetry Slam on Sunday.

The Poetry Slam has traditionally been one of the most anticipated showcases of the recently concluded NGC Bocas Lit Fest.

The competition will be broadcast on TV6 and livestreamed on www.tv6tnt.com from 7.30 p.m.

The tenth edition of the Lit Fest was staged virtually on Facebook and YouTube last weekend due to ongoing restrictions of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“In light of the pandemic, the continuation of this year’s competition has had to take the form of a television broadcast, executed by producers of the National Poetry Slam, Bocas Lit Fest and title sponsor First Citizens, in collaboration with long-standing media partner TV6,” festival coordinator Ardene Sirjoo said about the festival’s first fully virtual staging.

For the first time in the competition’s history women will also outnumber men, with seven of the final 13 poets being female—Stewart, Nia Thompson, Zakiya Gill, Shimiah Lewis, Carol-Anne Stephens, Tineka Francois and Shineque Saunders.

Perennial finalists Red Frederick, Seth Sylvester and Ahmad Abdullah-Muhammad lead a talented cast of male finalists that include Gary Acosta, Ronald Forde and comedian Kevin Soyer.

They will all vie for a jackpot of $80,000—the winner taking home $50,000; second place, $20,000; and third place, $10,000. Over the last six years, First Citizens has awarded over $350,000 in prize money in the competition.

Bocas Lit Fest founder/director Marina Salandy-Brown said the talented finalists accurately capture the uncertain state of the globe, given the very real threat of the ongoing pandemic. Salandy-Brown said, however, they’ve found space to shine a hopeful beam on better times to come.

“The 2020 Slam poets’ pieces aptly mirror the times we are in, but we look forward to the bright light of a new dawn that must surely follow. We are all very grateful to First Citizens for believing in the role that self-expression plays in our lives and for staying the course; and to OCM (One Caribbean Media) and TV6 for making it possible to get these voices heard,” Salandy-Brown told the Express via e-mail yesterday.

An unforgettable experience

Stewart called the Poetry Slam an “unforgettable experience” that has forever changed her life. The defending champion, who is currently enrolled in the Master of Fine Arts (MFA) in creative writing programme at The University of the West Indies, St Augustine, said investing in spoken word can reap real rewards.

“I value the First Citizens National Poetry Slam for the stage it provides spoken word artistes, where both budding and established performers can find a platform. I certainly appreciate the investment First Citizens makes to recognise and reward artistes for their extraordinary efforts.

“Last year was a truly unforgettable experience. Winning the Slam has been an extra source of motivation, allowing me to invest further in developing my craft. As a career spoken word and teaching artiste, I am determined to continue honing my skills and sharing what I have learnt with others,” Stewart said.

Sunday’s winner will be selected by an elite adjudication panel that includes literary luminaries Nigerian poet Dr Funso Aiyejina, writer/comedian Lisa Allen-Agostini and poet/performer Paula Obe. Three-time International Soca Monarch and highly rated songwriter Voice (Aaron St Louis) will sit on the panel as a celebrity judge.


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