It might be a very strange looking trophy, but the papier-mâché shark head, affectionately called “Billy Sharkspeare,” is a momentous symbol of victory for three students at Victoria High School.
Agartu Ali (grade 10), Eden Murray (grade 12) and Neko Smart (grade 11) won the Hullaballoo 2018 youth poetry competition in Vancouver on April 21— a great feat in itself, but even greater considering this was the school’s first poetry slam team.
“It was incredible, the most amazing experience of my life,” Smart said. “I think just being surrounded by people who have the same passion for spoken word that I do, their eagerness and energy, and to just learn from each other and feed off of each other in terms of inspiration and ideas, it was a beautiful experience.”
The competition was between 15 teams from across the province, and consisted of two preliminary bouts, followed by three individual rounds and one team piece. The performances were judged by randomly chosen audience members, who assigned each participant a score out of 10.
The Vic High team piece, titled “Generation of f*** ups” won them the competition, attaining a near-perfect score with four 10s and one nine-point-nine.
“Me, Neko and our other team member Agartu were on stage, and what happens in team pieces is we’ll say lines on our own and together,” Murray said, adding they also played around with singing and dancing. “I did a dance that was kind of like a trans dance, and completely improvised. I basically just got on stage and had a spasm.”
The winning poem was originally written by Smart, who said that she composed it at a particularly angsty point in her life, and didn’t realize the comedic value to it until early audience members began laughing.
“We were like ‘our art is so serious, why are you laughing?!’” Smart said with a laugh as she dramatically swept her hands down her face.
“Then we reviewed the words and it was all like ‘Converse and Doc Martens and cigarette smog and weed’ so in terms of content it has those stereotypical teenager things, but now we’re trying to use it ironically.”
While Smart has written poetry for years, Murray only started writing over the past few months.
“Once I stepped into the community and atmosphere I was very much inspired to start writing and I really liked to play with how rhythm and voice can accentuate the different feelings that one’s trying to bring across when they’re putting words on the page,”Murray said.
Poet coach Marie Specht couldn’t be prouder of the team’s accomplishments.
“This whole thing has felt like such a privilege, these kids are super driven self-starters,” she said, adding that in only a couple months the girls raised over $1,300 dollars to get themselves to the competition by selling poetry books, baked goods, and by hosting workshops.
“They put a lot of their hearts into this and I’m so happy that they’re being recognized.”
Billy Sharkspeare will be moved into Vic High’s trophy case, though Smart said Principal Aaron Parker had a funny reaction when he saw it.
“He said ‘it’s got me engaged in a way that’s got me evoking a lot of convoluted emotions,’” she laughed.
“I guess that’s kind of the point of all the slam stuff,” Murray mused. “That’s how we want people to feel.”