Perhaps the answer lies in the construction of his revelatory offerings or their delivery. Even she defers to her mother’s opinion – “My mother says it’s my sincerity, my words reach the heart and linger long after” – when asked what sets her apart from others . But with a third win under her belt, 2022 First Citizens National Poetry Slam (FCNPS) winner and spoken word artist Alexandra Stewart has proven she has a knack for getting her messages home.
It was on the 10th anniversary of the FCNPS or Grandslam held at the Naparima Bowl on October 9 that Stewart had his momentous moment by leading the pack for the third time. She has the great honor of being the first person to do so, adding to her previous breakthrough achievement of being the first to win consecutively, having won the title in 2019 and 2020. Since 2017, Stewart has placed five times in the event hosted by Bocas Lit Fest, making her the most decorated Slam competitor.
For her efforts, she was rewarded with a grand prize of $50,000, currently the largest scholarship offered in a poetry slam in the world. Second place winner Kevin Soyer received $20,000 and dethroned FCNPS champion Derron Sandy, who came third, took home $10,000. Soyer shed light on nepotism in the workplace, while Sandy explored concerns about teachers. President Paula-Mae Weekes was among the judges.
Admittedly giddy with joy when she heard the results, Stewart told the Sunday Guardian that she was grateful to have had the chance to make Slam history for another time.
“Writing is a big part of my life. I constantly invest time, energy and focus in honing my skills and mastering the art form. I am extremely grateful to Jehovah, my family, and the friends and strangers who continue to encourage me. The greatest prize is knowing that once again the message of my poem has resonated with the public,” she said.
Part of delivering the message is Stewart’s ability to turn things around. Sometimes the young poet achieves this primarily through content and flow like in her powerful 2019 track or through the structure of her presentation like her swapping between Amazon’s Alexa voice-activated virtual assistant and her own voice in her poem about racism in 2020.
Stewart, third from left, shows his $50,000 check from First Citizens Bank with third place winner Derron Sandy, second place winner Kevin
COURTESY OF CURTIS HENRY
This time around, Steward delivered his winning piece “Anatomy of a Wolf” via fairy tale character Little Red Riding Hood, highlighting the difference between how boys and girls are told about gender-based violence and the growing number of missing women in T&T while perpetrators hide in plain sight.
“Harmful behaviors (in men) are rejected by ‘boys will be boys’, but boys will soon become men. When they are excluded from meaningful discussions about gender-based violence, it is easy for them to develop cruel thoughts and abusive habits.
“My hope is that the poem sparks compassionate conversations and that those who listen stop long enough to think about their place in these issues,” she said.
For the semi-finals, Stewart performed “10 Seconds Before” which she described as a hug and a push for those struggling with suicidal thoughts. Across the room, she urged anyone considering harming themselves to hold on as life gets a whole lot better.
The words of her lyrics dance on her lips, carried by a rhythm wrapped in the trials of growing up with a single mother struggling to provide for her children, the struggles of a young Afro-Trinidadian woman navigating her path in life, and an awareness of the problems plaguing the society in which she lives. His words are fire; her Afro ‘do adding to her naturalness on stage.
At Slam, spoken word poets are entitled to the most bare-bones accessories to color their performances. Their presentations focused on one “mic”, it’s the vocal and physical energy, charisma and delivery that bring the tracks home. Stewart seems to strike a chord with her audience, including the judges.
A former student of St Joseph’s Convent, St Joseph, Stewart’s schooling exposed her to the arts, but her writing came naturally. While reading takes her to various worlds and helps her meet many different people, writing allows her to “live a thousand lives,” she said. Despite the heavy subject matter most of the time, she said she tries to incorporate the good, showing her faith in a better future.
Returning to her beginnings in the Slam, Stewart shared how deeply she became involved in the expressive and rhythmic poetic art form of the spoken word.
“I was 16 when my mother discovered spoken word poetry videos on YouTube. I was thrilled; the words were alive and throbbing in a way I had never seen before. My mother heard about UWI Open Mic, UWE Speak and challenged me to write something and perform, to which I replied: why not?
“As a theater student I was no stranger to performing, but there was something deeply personal about sharing a poem; terrifying nudity. With trembling knees and a handwritten poem, I stood at the microphone for the first time. My friends sat in the audience eagerly.
“Back then, people would throw shoes at your feet if they liked your poem. I was blown away by the large quantity and variety of shoes I received; boots, rubber dings, not-so-white sneakers and sparkly sandals. The applause was thunderous and the experience elated me,” she said.
The 24-year-old worked with the 2 Cents movement – the original group of artists who founded the Verses Poetry competition that evolved into the Slam – on school tours and workshops, and still teaches poetry classes. ‘English. A master’s student in creative writing who focuses on short stories, Stewart isn’t shy about trying her hand at arts such as painting, music and jewelry making.
“I enjoy the process without the pressure of a goal. Every creative has to make art for art’s sake; art for art’s sake,” she says.
And what makes her come back to the Slam?
“I love the thrilling excitement, the enthusiastic listeners and the challenge – every year I seek to challenge myself and experiment with new ideas. Sharing the stage with other talented poets, new and old, is both a privilege and a learning experience.
Stewart also sees the contest’s value as part of the “local spoken word ecosystem”. It identifies societal issues and develops the skills of artists themselves, she said.
“I am pleased with the continued support and investment from First Citizens, Bocas Lit Fest and the public,” she said.
To future spoken word artists, she advised, “savor your genesis as everyone starts somewhere, seek reward in your work rather than winning titles alone, exercise the discipline that comes with be an entrepreneur and have fun while extending metaphors and serving similes.
“What you intend to say has already been said, but no one has said it the way you will,” she said.
Still writing, teaching, and performing, Stewart plans to hold free workshops to show her appreciation to her followers and collaborate with other creatives. Also on her to-do list are making spoken word films and her own show.
Follow or connect with the young artist on Instagram @talktothefro and on alexandracstewart.com