The largest gathering to date of Canadian spoken-word poets has begun in Ottawa, with attendees gearing up for verbal fireballs in the event's main competition.

More than 100 poets from across the country are in town until Saturday for the seventh annual Canadian Festival of Spoken Word.

AUDIO

Listen to the slam poets of CBC's 2009 Poetry Face-Off.

The first festival, also held in Ottawa, had eight teams competing in its flagship slam poetry competition. This week's event will see 18 teams, including Capital Slam from Ottawa, serving up lively performances of original poems.

John Akpata of Capital Slam, who took part in that first event in 2004, has seen spoken-word poetry grow in popularity, finding its way onto YouTube and into school workshops.

"What we wanted to do back in '04 was spread spoken word to places where it doesn't go, and give artists places to go to," he said.

Spoken-word events now take place monthly in towns like Carleton Place, and a poet performed in the opening ceremonies at the Vancouver Winter Olympics.

Sarah Bingham, a member of the Lanark County squad — the only rural team in this year's competition — said her fellow slam poets have grown from writing poems about personal experiences to touching on all sorts of global topics, such as famine or feminism.

"The evolution of poetry in our scene has been incredible. The calibre, the different things we talk about," she said.

Teammate Inez Dekker said spoken-word poets get lots of ideas from Canada-wide festivals.

"It's a gathering of people who like words, who love poetry," Dekker said. "It's a gathering of people appreciating what's going on."

It's also a gathering with rivalry: The two Ottawa teams in this week's championship will be looking to keep the national title in the capital, after an Ottawa team won last year's event in Victoria.