UBC Okanagan poet, Jada Larkin, wins battle between best wordsmiths in Kelowna
To the judges, audience members, organizers, and poets at UBC Okanagan, the UBC Students' Union Okanagan's collaborative event with Inspired Word Café, “Battle on the Hill”, was, in a word, enlightening. As student-poets Ahmed Dirar, Nygel Metcalfe, Jada Larkin, and Lolu Oyedele duked it out against community poets Erin Scott, Aaron Gordon, Jack MacLeod, and Tarran Kostiuk, one could not help but breathe in the vast air of wisdom which permeated throughout the UNC Ballroom.
Lesson One: Poetry
Nobody fucking knows what poetry is. If you were to ask any “Battle on the Hill” ticket holder to define poetry, the diversity of answers would only be rivaled by the diversity of attendees. Put simply (and rather conservatively), poetry is an artistic medium, and unarguably the most fluid, dynamic, and malleable literary medium relative to its contemporaries. Though I do not doubt that many of the “Battle on the Hill” participants hold a firm idea of what poetry is, it does not take a poetic connoisseur to recognize the vast variability present in both the poets and performances. From Kostiuk, Gordon, and Metcalfe’s collection of pieces on beautifully tragic romanticism to Larkin and Dirar’s pieces regarding the disregarded plague of present-day racism, “Battle On The Hill” illustrated the true nature of poetry as a living organism capable of articulating ideas, ideals, and imaginations into forces for change, recognition, and self-reflection.
“Who is my poetry for?” asked UBCO’s Jada Larkin. When faced with the sea of variety at the event it becomes difficult to see who poetry is for, or if poetry, in its grandeur, simplicity, and flexibility, is for anyone at all.
To those who wish to develop an awareness of social issues, poetry is for you. To those who wish to relate to heartbreak and love, poetry is for you. To those who wish to experience anything and everything, poetry is for you. Frankly, poetry is for those who wish to listen, who wish to be open, and who wish to learn.
Lesson Two: Social Injustice
Many attendees of “Battle on the Hill” expected a fun little student event complete with inspiring words and free drink tickets. But as expectation was once again trumped by reality, the event was headlined by topics such as racism, feminism, sexual assault, technological uncertainty, and body image. One could argue that “Battle on the Hill” was less of a battle and more of a sermon designed to instill a fresh worldview within listeners (though there was an incredibly entertaining exchange between Metcalfe and Scott taken straight out of 8 Mile). MacLeod highlighted the tendrils of technology within our black-mirror generation, Oyedele’s vibrant letter to a self-conscious friend was beloved by judges and audience alike, Scott’s poems on female empowerment ultimately propelled her to the final round, and both Larkin and Dirar proselytized the societal state of their African brothers and sisters. Larkin’s second poem, by far the most impactful and substantial poem of the night, illustrated the fragility of masculinity and contended for a society in which women are respected and cherished rather than raped, objectified, and standardized. MacLeod may have possessed the most astute technical talent of the participants, but something just felt perfect about having Larkin and Scott in the final stage of the event.
As co-hosts Michael V. Smith, professor of Creative Writing at UBC Okanagan, and Rawle Ian James, prominent member of Kelowna’s collective of artistic talent, prepared to announce the winner, the reality of what both UBCO students and community members had experienced finally began to settle in. Never before in UBC Okanagan’s faint, youthful history, had there been such a phenomenal display of all that the university strives to provide - an educational experience that connects campus and community in a united fight towards a better future. Although Larkin ultimately prevailed as winner of the inaugural “Battle on the Hill”, the sheer volume of knowledge thrown towards a captivated audience may lead one to reason that the latter were the true victors of the night.
“Battle on the Hill” was, quite possibly, the best thing UBC Okanagan has ever done.