Trash Talkin’ unearths local literary diamonds
Last month, I had the good fortune to attend the better part of the student-run conference Trash Talkin’ 2011, the sole mandate of which is to provide a forum for students to present academic papers on popular culture and contemporary writing to their peers.
As a self-identified cynic and all around curmudgeon, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the conference was both inspiring and encouraging. Some of the work presented was brilliant and humbling, and the comments and feedback provided by those in attendance only continued to demonstrate the quality of thought present in the auditorium.
I could not help but think of each individual who was in attendance as a hungry brain looking to satisfy its appetite on the intellectual banquets provided by each speaker. Some presentations were prepared as appetizers, some as entrées, and others as purely desserts. Each had their place in the meal proper, but those that did not seem aware of their position on the menu failed to properly cleanse the palate before serving their dish. Luckily, the overall quality of the presentations was high, and the feast on display was very satisfying indeed.
It was amazing to see several younger participants deliver their presentations strategically, with the live audience in mind. There were a number of editorial decisions, ad-libs, and revisions that one might expect from good writers performing their art at such a venue, but certain presentations were exemplary. One in particular strategically used self-denigrating humour to tear down intellectual barricades, and coupled with a well-placed cheap shot at academics in general and an innocent and honest preamble to start the whole thing off, this presenter managed to sufficiently disarm the audience. We were expertly tricked into appreciating the story on its own terms.
While observant and often quite correct, the academic criticism between sessions seemed to me the low point of the whole affair. The point of Trash Talkin’ is to provide constructive criticism and feedback for people who want to improve their work and identify weak areas in their papers, so I acknowledge that I might simply be the person who goes to Seaworld and then complains when he gets splashed. But if you’re not particularly proud of your intellectual grandeur, this is a forum where size does matter.
The final presenters delivered such a poetic hammer blow to the soul that even the most critical were impressed. If earlier presentations had disarmed the analytic audience, these obliterated them. The mixture of sincerity and imagination on display was enough to make even the most cynical and too-cool-to-participate-but-cocky-enough-to-show-up-and-judge-others sit forward and listen. And I mean really, listen. One doesn’t expect reclusive, artistic shut-ins to speak with confidence or grace, nor to provide real, bona-fide literature that elicits a wide range of emotional and intellectual reactions, from down-in-your-bowels-harrowing to choked-up-in-your-throat-beautiful. These people were only just starting to become the writers they will eventually be. They are unassuming students who, at this very moment, are walking amongst you and sitting within earshot.
It’s for this reason that Trash Talkin’ succeeds. Critics aside, it’s a reminder to students that the work they do at university, even in a liberal arts program, is not done just for grades but is actually rather marvelous and worth the recognition of one’s peers. Not everyone who attends university is a genius, but there are certainly more than you might reckon. Amidst all the stress, procrastination, self-loathing, obstinance, empiricism, and untold quantities of Tim Horton’s coffee consumption one routinely encounters at university, there is also passion, drive, ambition, and inspiration. For a day and a half each year, Trash Talkin’ reminds us that ordinary people might have something extraordinary to say. Trash Talkin’ provided the forum necessary to recognize this, but it also encouraged attendees to recognize this at any given day spent at the university. Take another look at the eccentric hurriedly scribbling something down in a notebook, or the individual whose scattered study materials on a table juxtaposes the immaculate order they’re enforcing on the page before them. This person, at this very moment, might be creating something capable of silencing an auditorium full of hungry, critical, academic brains that, if only for a moment, become truly inspired by someone who sits next to them in class.