The crowd is rowdy. It’s a burlesque show at a Halifax bar, and people are already sweating after a sexy opening performer. The next act, The Bearded Professor, is introduced. He steps up to the mic and does what few people do at burlesque shows: he begins to recite. “Step into the nightlife with your best shoes on, the ones with the soles of most impure thoughts.” Chairs rustle, people murmur. And then The Professor lets them in on his own “impure thoughts.” As he waxes poetic about hands exploring bodies, he begins to explore his own, taking the crowd on a tour. “Now it’s all fun and games until someone loses a shirt,” by which point The Professor is shirtless and the crowd loses it. They’re into it, and so is he.
The Bearded Professor is a creation of Jordan Thomas, a spoken-word artist based in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Thomas is a member of the Velvet Rope Boylesque troupe (of which this author is also a member) as well as the captain of the Halifax Slam Poetry Team. He’s been performing at various spoken-word events for the past few years, under the moniker JPhat. Thomas deals with equality, self-improvement and sex-positive stories in his work. His flow is, at times, aggressive and politically charged. But as the burlesque audience saw that night, his passion is not only a lyrical weapon but also a sexual one. “I guess that’s just what happens when it comes out,” he says. “When I am really saying exactly what I want to mean, exactly how I want to say it, to the best of my knowledge, I really want you to see how passionate I am, and hopefully you can feel it, too.”
It’s that kind of determination that got Thomas elected captain of this year’s Halifax Slam Poetry Team. JPhat and the rest of the Halifax crew are headed to Toronto to participate in the Canadian Festival of Spoken Word in mid-October. As for his less-than-orthodox venue of delivery, members of the team are proud of him for bringing spoken word to new audiences. “Putting things into different contexts and doing something more exciting than just standing there and saying things,” says team member Michael McGuire, aka Hermit of the Woods. “It lets writers explore different themes, different audiences and different ways of delivering their work. It can surprise people and really get their attention. It’s performance poetry, so literally stripping it all down to the barest elements is a beautiful metaphor.”
Back at the burlesque show, The Bearded Professor educates his audience about new forms of language. “Rearrange the alphabet into something that’s spoken strictly phonetically, lots of ooos, ahhs and eees.” For Thomas, it’s not only about rearranging the alphabet – he believes in rearranging what spoken word is and where it’s performed. He joined Velvet Rope Boylesque when he realized he could take his love of spoken word somewhere different. He knew that audiences might be hesitant to accept someone reciting words rather than stripping down to their underwear. “I think initially when people hear that I’m going to do spoken word, they think, ‘Aw, fuck, he’s gonna do some boring beat poet thing.’ And then I come out and do my thing.” His thing is a charged lyrical delivery. He talks just as easily about the joys of one-night stands as he does about feeling good about your body. “I like sharing spoken word in a whole new venue,” he says. “I think sexual expression is healthy, so why not combine the two?”
It’s a combination that seems to work, and audiences enjoy it. For Thomas, it’s less about showing off his body and more about the message. “I have confidence in what I was writing. I feel comfortable doing it,” he says. “It doesn’t matter to me if they like my body type. What matters is my confidence and the story and everything that comes with it.”
What comes with it is a direct line into the heart of a man who is unafraid to bare himself to others, both inside and out.