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The spoken word series Speak! aims to shine a light on Halifax’s spoken word community. Lindsay McCarney raises her voice.

About 100 people have gathered in Ginger’s Tavern and most of them have their fists raised in the air.

Emphatically, the arms jerk down, a sea of fists pump together in solidarity. With the fist-pumps comes a one-word chant of encouragement from a bar full of voices.

“Speak!”

It’s mid-January, and the crowd has gathered to take in the second show in the 2006-2007 season of Speak!. On the third Thursday of every month, Speak! showcases new voices and established spoken word artists in Ginger’s Tavern on Barrington St.

The January show starts with an open mic section before featured performers Eddy Da Original One (AKA Eddy David), Outlawed Matter (Rosalynn Iuliucci) and EMC (Eric McIntyre) take the stage.

The Speak! series is put on by Word Iz Bond, a spoken word artists’ collective. The organization was first formed in the spring of 2001 by a small group of Dalhousie University students that frequented the school’s Black Student Advising Centre. Their intent was to develop Halifax’s spoken word scene, says Reed Jones (AKA iZrEAL), one of the collective’s founding members.

Six years later, the collective is still working to achieve that goal. 

This October, Halifax will host the Canadian Festival of Spoken Word for the first time since the event was born as Wordlympics in Ottawa in 2004. Eight teams of Canada’s top spoken word artists will come together to compete, perform and attend workshops, with all competitions and performances open to the public.

This is also the first year Word Iz Bond has been awarded funding from the Canada Council for the Arts to help run the Speak! series. The $4,000 grant the collective received has helped Word Iz Bond fly poets from across the country to appear at Speak!.

Ardath Whynacht is an outreach worker at Leave Out ViolencE, a program aimed at helping youth who have experienced violence to express themselves. She joined Word Iz Bond in 2005. “I don’t even know if I like poetry,” says Whynacht. “I just have to do it…It’s sort of an integral part of how I process the world around me.”

Participating in events like Speak! can help poets share their work with a wider audience, Whynacht says. She points out that many good poets don’t end up getting published. “If you don’t perform your work and take it out in the community, it’s probably never going to be heard.”

There was a spoken word scene in Halifax before Word Iz Bond’s formation, says David Rimmington. Rimmington has been performing his poetry in Halifax for about 15 years and has hosted his own open-mic nights.

Word Iz Bond has encouraged many writers to perform and “they’re popularizing the spoken word,” says Rimmington. “I think they’re bringing poetry out of the closet, and they’re giving lively performances.”

Word Iz Bond has also taken steps to keep a steady stream of talent flowing. In 2004, the collective started a project called Youth Speak!, a project aimed at encouraging youth to find their voices.

The Youth Speak! program will soon expand. The collective just received funding from the 4Cs foundation, a group that supports arts-based community development; in the next couple weeks, the poets will head to Dartmouth High, Auburn Drive and Halifax West to present a three-part series of new workshops.

According to Whynacht, the purpose of Youth Speak! is “to facilitate fresh voices in the spoken word community, and to encourage new generations of poets.”

This focus helps Halifax’s spoken scene continue to grow. Some of the people who come to Speak! now were once attendees at Youth Speak! workshops.

“It’s really all about giving back to the community,” says Jones. “If you want to see some poets later, and some other great artists coming out of the city, you gotta start it with the kids.”

Speak!, March 15 at Ginger’s, 1662 Barrington, 9pm, $4.

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