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Spoken Word a supportive space for artists

Cathy Dobson Every month, Sarnians can participate in or watch a unique experience involving original word play and performances.
Melissa Upfold hosts The Spoken Word at the Lawrence House each month. Cathy Dobson

Cathy Dobson  

Every month, Sarnians can participate in or watch a unique experience involving original word play and performances.

The Spoken Word is a two-hour, unrehearsed show about language that features everything from poetry to short stories, and video productions to great guitar licks.

It’s held the last Friday of the month.

“It’s exactly what the name suggests,” says volunteer host Melissa Upfold. “We welcome everyone to perform their work or someone else’s work. We turn no one away and it is free.”

A single night at The Spoken Word could include a reading from a favourite novel, short poems, a bit of passionate slam poetry, and a couple of actors interpreting their own work.

It might feature someone on the guitar, a storyteller and an excerpt or two from a historical book.

Everyone who wants to perform is encouraged to arrive a few minutes prior to the 8 p.m. start to let Upfold know what they plan to do for their five minutes or so in front of the audience.  She then decides on the order, ensuring there’s a variety of styles and performance types.

Most large cities have a version of The Spoken Word to provide writers a forum to perform their work and poets a chance to get audience feedback.

“If you want to be a writer on any kind of higher level, you have to do a press tour and read from your book,” said Upfold.  “A lot of writers aren’t comfortable with that, so this is a good platform to practice.

“No one is going to judge you.  If you mess up, we’re supportive,” she said.

There’s no formal opportunity for the audience to question the performers and Upfold likes it that way.

“It’s important you don’t feel like you have to publicly defend what you do,” she said.

But there is a casual snack time that allows private discussion between performers and audience members.

Sarnia’s Spoken Word was started 15 years ago by a small group of local writers including the late Peggy Fletcher.

Upfold, a history graduate from Carleton University, professional photographer and a lifelong Sarnia resident, became host last spring and wants to broaden the appeal.

“We’ve lost five or six important people in the Sarnia writing community recently,” she said. “We’re anxious to grab the interest of younger people.”

The Spoken Word attracts as few as 10 and as many as 50 to the turret room on the second floor of the Lawrence House on Christina Street. A theme, such as Nostalgia or Fire, is chosen for each month.

On Friday Oct. 30 from 8 p.m. – 10 p.m., the theme is Halloween and all are encouraged to dress up in costume.

The Spoken Word is also hosting a First Friday event on Nov. 6 from 6 p.m. – 9 p.m. in conjunction with Lambton College students showcasing their work at the Lawrence House. That night’s theme is Sustenance.

It’s possible to contact Upfold prior to an event rather than register just before.  She can be emailed at [email protected].

For more, visit Spoken Word Sarnia on Facebook or the website at

The Arts Journal reflects the cultural fabric of our community. If you have an idea, contact Cathy Dobson at [email protected] or 226-932-0985. 

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