Thursday, November 28, 2013

Poetry Is Not For Poets

Hello my dears,

I use the words "my dears" because I'm feeling quite like a grandma today, bundled up in my kitchen with my hair in a bun waiting for the coffee to percolate. It's a Thursday morning and its also American Thanksgiving (barf- but that's another rant about assimilation and genocide) which means I get the day off. Before you go thinking that I'm American or that I've moved to the States let me clarify- I work at a company that mostly has American clients. I'm still in Montreal and I haven't succumbed to the lure of cheap cell phone service and better Netflix. Speaking of copious amounts of Netflix, the first snow fell yesterday. There's a thin blanket of white over everything this morning and it feels a little surreal because it's already almost December. With a mixture of horror and relief I had almost begun to think it wouldn't come this year, that winter would skip us or something. How naive I can be sometimes. I still see pictures of my friends in Victoria in jean jackets at this time of year and seethe with jealousy. I can't seem to adjust to the freeze so I mostly choose to hibernate. But I'm here to talk about something else, so let's get moving shall we?

The company I work for held a talent show this month fundraising for a youth association called the Bathsaw Foundation ( It was a great night and there was so much work put into it by all the staff, and we raised a lot of money. I've been with the company for a couple of years and pretty much everyone knows that I'm a poet. I mean, I took a month off last May to go on tour- so it's pretty common knowledge that I'm a performer. Originally I said I didn't want to perform due to my recent poetry hiatus. This year for the first time in about 4 years I missed Nationals completely even though it was in Montreal. I just decided I didn't want to be a part of it. It broke my heart a little bit to know that dozens of awesome people from all over the country that I love were ten minutes away from me and I didn't go see them. At the same time, I felt relieved when it was over and everyone went home. Maybe this sounds awful, and I wouldn't be surprised if there are some that are angry with me. But I had my reasons for doing this, and at the talent show I realized what they were.

I finally did get talked into performing when a few other people dropped out of the show. I wasn't exactly enthusiastic but it was a favor to my good friend Leann who was organizing it. I did two poems; Shifty Kids and Sex ( It felt great and natural and effortless to be on stage on again. I knew I was performing to a room full of people who didn't listen to spoken word, who didn't go to slams and who maybe had never heard stuff like this before. That's always a little intimidating because they could either love it or hate it and even though most of these people know me, they could easily be underwhelmed by my heartfelt poetry. It's not like I talk about my feelings at work a lot and let's be honest- my poetry is a wee bit on the personal side. In the end the response was overwhelming good. I even made a few people cry which as some of you know is my specialty. And this reminded me of why I love performing poetry and also clarified why I didn't want to go to Nationals this year.

I'm tired of performing for other poets. We all love the same thing, we all grow together and learn and get better at our craft. I certainly appreciate that community more than words can say. But if we always stay in our little cafes and rooms performing for each other then what is the point? At festivals like Nationals we try to outdo each other in the spirit of competition and we try to do crazier things than last year. Do we even consider our audience outside of what they might score us? Are we aware of how they feel, what they are hearing and the impact we can have on someone who has never heard poetry like this before? Because most of the time it feels like we are just showing off for each other. Fresh ears, fresh eyes and a new perspective came to me the night of the Talent Show. I don't want to create art for other artists. The more I do that the more I miss the point, especially if I am creating art in order to score points and outdo other artists. I want to create art to connect to people - not just people who already love poetry or other poets. I have to take my art to my other communities also and bridge that gap. Have the difficult/ annoying conversations about what spoken word is and why I do it. Once I separated myself from an insular community which seems to look down on anyone who doesn't know about it, I am starting to figure out what I want out of this art.

Please do not think that I am bashing the spoken word community right now- because that is not my intent. I love that community because it is so loving, so kind and filled with so much incredible talent. I am simply saying it is time to spread out a little wider, beyond the slams, to something more inclusive and open. The competition is not helping the community grow the way it once did, but I fear it is keeping people away.

That's my rant on this snowy November morning. I'm off to enjoy my freedom for the next four days and maybe even start a snowball fight with some little kids in the park. Because I'm a rebel like that (not).