Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Frequently Asked Questions

So the tour is pretty much over! I did my last show last night and I'm currently in my mother's apartment in Okotoks, AB. 

I can't say enough about this experience. It's been filled with many friends whose faces and spirits have filled me with gratitude. Having a community is so important, and I'm blessed to have a community that spans hundreds of miles across the country. Without their support and encouragement I would not be where I am or have accomplished anything. I've learned alot in the last month, and I've realized that as much as I love touring and travelling, I also love my home. Montreal has become my place, the city that fits me and I'm longing to go back there right now. 

First, I want to take this opportunity to answer some of the most commonly asked questions about my art. Because many people I know are not a part of the spoken word community I answer the same 5 questions alot. Even in interviews with people who do know this world there is always a theme in the questions. So I'm going to answer some of them here.

1. Q: What is "Slam Poetry"?
    A: There is no such thing as "Slam Poetry". Slam is a competition, it is a game that we play with poetry. As much as there may seem to be a style or a framework for these types of poems, they are framed that way most of the time because there is a 3 minute time limit. But the artform is not called slam poetry, it is spoken word or performance poetry, or just plain poetry. Slam has made spoken word more popular because it is exciting, there are scores and competition, and there is a winner. This has made poetry into a game. But it is not an artform in itself. Example; There are story slams where storytellers compete in the same fashion. But noone calls that "slam stories", they are simply stories that are being used in a competition. The same goes for spoken word. 

2. Q: What's the difference between spoken word and "regular" poetry? 
     A: The only difference is that spoken word focuses more on the oral tradition of relaying stories and poetry. It is written less for the page and more to be heard. This does not mean that spoken word is always memorized by the performer and many do read off the page. It is however more focused on how you use your voice and body on the stage in order to convey your poem. This means it is more theatrical than a poet sitting in a chair reading from their book. We attempt to engage audiences imaginations through stage presence and the presentation of our work. 

3. Q: (Generally from members of the community in interviews) Why are there less women in Slam? 
    A: I get this question alot and I can only assume it is because I am a woman who has competed in Slam. The truth is that I don't know, and I cannot/ will not speak for all women. I do know that slam spaces are not always the safest spaces and that this is something that needs to change. Each slam community across the country is different, and each has to have their own discussion of what 'safe space' means for them. There are a ton of amazing women in spoken word and slam and if you are not seeing them then you are not looking hard enough.

4. Q: What do spoken word poets write about? 
    A: This question is always a little baffling. I mean, what do playwrights write about? What do songwriter's write about? There is such a huge variety of voices, subject matter, styles and stories that it is impossible to tell you. We write about everything, from personal stories to fantasy to comedy to political rants. We write about historical figures, video games, love, the environment and everything in between. There is no answer to this question except for me to tell you to go to a show or YouTube some spoken word. For any subject matter you are interested in, there is a poem about it. 

5. Q: Can you make a living doing spoken word? Is there an audience? 
    A: This is tricky. Firstly, yes there is an audience. Spoken word has gained in popularity even though it is still considered by many as a fringe art. There are poets who make their entire living by performing and teaching spoken word. It`s alot like music in that touring is where the money is. Not many people head to the poetry section of their local bookstore anymore, but people will pay to see a show and they will buy your merchandise. Teaching workshops can also bring you income. It`s certainly not an easy path to take, but you can do it if you are motivated enough. It`s like making a living doing any artform, it takes drive and sometimes struggle, but it can be possible.

These are just some of the questions I get on a regular basis. If any of you have any more that you would like answered or other poets have other questions you get all the time please let me know and I will post answers! These are just my opinions, my answers. Just like the massive range of humanity and creativity we see in poetry so do we see in opinions to these types of questions. If you are interested in spoken word but have never been to a show, do a Google search for poetry slam in your community or spoken word events. There is sure to be something.

As for me, I`m headed home on Saturday and am very excited to see my cat and my friends. To spend some time in my apartment and to see a special person who shall not be named. My life is so very very good. 

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Little Things About A Life

I'm currently sitting in a friend's apartment in Vancouver, listening to a Bandcamp playlist and leaning out a 4th story window to smoke. I'm listening to the sounds of the trains outside the window, smelling the meat processing plant on the other side of the tracks and sipping on a perfect cup of coffee. I'm thinking about Montreal, all the cities I've been in over the last two weeks and what today's anniversary really means to me.

All I keep circling back to is that this day would mean alot less if I didn't have the strenght of my loved ones, friends and aquaintances in my corner. If I didn't have a history of knowing incredible, loving folks who have at times opened their homes, their cupboards and their hearts to me. Over 7 years of my sobriety I have lived in 3 cities. In each of them I have met and have been blessed with mindblowing communities who hold me up when I can't hold myself, who have encouraged me to continue my artistic endeavours and never give up. These are not little things, these are huge things that I sometimes take for granted.

But there are other things I take for granted nowadays. Like the ability to wake up in the morning without shaking. The physical ability to walk down the street, take the metro, travel freely and access these communities I speak of. I have the mental capacity to share, to speak, to make coffee and the cognitive ability to do all of these things with (relative) ease. Obviously, this is not the case for everyone. This is a part of my privilege, that I am an able bodied person who can move in this world. I have access to medical resources, a doctor, and the ability to take medication which significantly improves and strengthens my ability to function. Even simple things like the ability to turn on my computer, access online communities, write a blog, email, and listen to music are gifts that I don't always consider. If I actively think about it, my gratitude extends far beyond being sober and into the simple things. Like owning a toothbrush, access to a warm shower and clean socks. Eating an ice cream cone in a park on a warm day. Sitting for 12 hours on a Greyhound bus and performing poetry at night. While on the Greyhound I am cranky, I am thinking about why the driver is going to slowly, why the person next to me chose to eat 100 pounds of garlic before their trip and then sweat it out in a crowded bus. I am thinking about how late I am going to be, how badly I would like to shower, how tired I am.

But what about the miracle of being able to walk onto a bus, sit down, be relatively comfortable and know that when I arrive in the next city or place there will be friends waiting. There will be a place to sleep and strangers to meet, a meal and an art that I love. Again, these are not little things. These are huge.

My hope for my life is that I am able to become a source of support and love for those I meet. If I am able to repay even a tiny fraction of what I have been given over the years, it will be a miracle. I try to actively dedicate my days to opening my home, my life, and my heart to those around me. I am getting better at this with practice, I am becoming more able to show affection and gratitude to those around me. This is all a learning process, and I have a long way to go.

One thing I know for sure is that it is not enough to say I am grateful. It has to be evident in the way I live and interact with others. It has to be something that I am, that I exhale with each breath. I imagine a warm wind covering everyone I meet on the road and at home. I want to be a warm wind that hugs you. I want my hand to be out when someone needs it, wants it, or is unsure of what they need. I like the saying 'Faith without works is dead'. It is a call to action to hug your community, to be present mentally, emotionally and physically and to ask what needs to be done. To put your hand up and say "I will" in everyday life.

I will care.
I will be present.
I will be available.
I will be human.
I will be here.
I will be.

This is what has been given to me. It is the reason I am alive today. Let's eat some ice cream. 

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Notes from the road

Hey ya'll,

So I've in Edmonton for the past few days and its been an eye opening experience in some ways. I've always heard about how people in the West are oh so friendly and I've always just nodded my head and thought 'yeah yeah right'. The truth is that I lived in Calgary and I didn't see much of a difference. People still scowl at each other on the train and avoid eye contact in the street. To me, every city is kind of the same. You have nice people, and then you have asshats, and you have those in between that want to be left alone. It's all good, I mean one of the perks of living in a big city is relative anonymity.

But oh man, have I been at the receiving end of western hospitatily on this trip. Example: Yesterday a bus driver (public transit) whom I asked for directions to my destination gave me two extra hours on my tranfer in case I got lost. Thats basically three free bus trips ($3.20 x 3 = $9.60 = A WEEKS WORTH OF LUNCH MONEY FOR TOURING POET). I had multiple conversations with elderly women, one of whom tried to help me find an earring on the ground for 10 minutes (we found it!). I chatted with a man in a wheelchair with no legs who had a super awesome beagle puppy. A girl in a vintage store basically helped me try on a million dresses and became my personal shopper/ much needed opiniated friend helper and she didn't even work at the store. So yeah, now I buy into all that 'damn, people here are nice.' They really are so much friendlier than in Montreal or Toronto.

And tonight I get on a Greyhound bus at 6pm headed to Nelson, which I am set to arrive in at 9am tomorrow morning. I have spent the day frantically getting supplies for this journey. Right now I am stocked with the following for the dreadfully long bus ride: Pyjama pants, travel blanket and pillow, a gazilion snacks including trail mix, fruit, chips and candy, juice boxes and water, and of course Gravol. The last item on this list may be the most important. Although I generally dislike taking medication of any kind (other than the kind that keeps me from going disastrously mental), Gravol is the exception during road trips of any kind. Because as the years have passed I have found myself getting car sick more often than not. And car sickness + 16hr Greyhound in the rockies is a horrible combination. Basically I take the pills so as to not throw up on other cranky travellers and spend the rest of the ride roasting in my own vomit (such lovely imagery, no?). I am doing everyone else a public service, trust me.

Today I was thinking about some of the traveller type people I know, specifically the women I know, who always seem to arrive looking fresh and happy. Let me make one thing clear: I am not one of them. I generally arrive looking like a freshly revived zombie: eyes swollen, glassy and half asleep, mangled hair splayed all over the place and a thin aroma of putrid body odour rising from my 5'2 frame. I do not understand why everyone else does not experience this. Also, after a long day of travelling I generally am not super social. I would rather hide underneath some blankets with a movie than talk to people. I need a shower, a nap and some substantial food in order to feel human again.

In case you hadn't noticed, I really am dreading the next couple long Greyhound bus rides. After Nelson I head to Vancouver on Sunday, which is only about a 10hr trip. Still, I am looking forward to not seeing another bus for awhile once I go home in June.

I'll keep you guys posted on how the journey goes. Enjoy your eating, your running, your parks and all your long legged freedom, I'll be thinking of you when I'm curled into a ball all night in travel limbo.