How to write poetry at a high altitude with elks on the loose…

1. befriend the elk without dying. 2. for altitude sickness, drink plenty of whisky water. 3. talk to the trees, they will whisper poems (or you will just find yourself looking strange in front of a pine tree).

In April I began a residency at the Banff Centre, in the heart of the Rocky mountains, with 15 incredible poets. It’s hard to sum up all that this residency did for me, but I will say that it shifted me in a pretty amazing way. This experience was rich with intense workshops, lively discussions on gender politics in slam/spoken word, uncomfortable confrontations with self and poetry. We shared so much more beyond language. One of the faculty, Geneviève Latarte said: “I write to know the person I don’t know I am” and never has that been clearer to me than when I was at Banff. I’m thankful for all it…from the late night karaoke jam in the woods, the tense group discussion with director Tom Shadyac, the faculty that generously guided us, the reoccurring theme of dwende, the shared tears at the closing circle, the ghosts, the words, the people…

After the residency I headed to Calgary to take in the Calgary International Spoken Word Festival and was consistently blown away every day of the festival. Much respect to Sheri-D Wilson for bringing together community both at Banff and CISWF. Then my Unity fam, Pyro, TK, Balu, Jesse and Mikey arrived from Toronto to begin a two-week tour of 10 different Calgary schools. Being surrounded by my Unity crew is like overdosing on inspiration. The Calgary Hip Hop community really welcomed us, the youth really inspired us and I came home feeling on top of the world.

In some of the workshops I do, I ask the youth to write creatively about where they are from. Here are a few lines they come up that really stuck with me:

“I’m from a place where bombs talk and people listen.”

“I’m from a place where the Avengers don’t need to avenge, where the Twilight Princess in a full night queen. I am from a place where the battle for Middle Earth is a dance off between Sauron and Gandalf.”

“I am from a place where houses fly and you need to catch them in order to have a home.”

When I returned to Toronto, I got a few hours sleep and then went straight into facilitating a workshops with Speakout Poetry and the Uth Daze multi-arts festival for National Youth Arts Week, followed by a performance for the opening night of Mayworks Festival of Working People and The Arts.

The following week I got to work with more incredible Unity artists on a local Toronto tour (where I had to wake up most days at 5:30am to be in Brampton early morning!). Later on that week I performed with dancer, Catherine Hernandez, for the rock.paper.sistahz festival. The performance felt raw and electric and I hope to continue to collaborate on future spoken word/dance pieces. To end the week, I was invited back for the second time to share words at the Iranian Women’s Organization of Ontario‘s annual gala. What I love most about being a full time artist is meeting new people (and free food!).

Final Updates:

With thanks to the Ontario Arts Council, I am moving forward with the creation and production of a spoken word album. Also looking forward to being part of the Up From The Roots Team again this year to represent at the 2012 Canadian Festival of Spoken Word.

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