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Update From Winter/Spring + What’s Next!

With a big yawn, I shake out the stiffness from this digital hibernation to bring you an update of some of my major activities since the New Year…and a preview of what’s to come!

The year kicked off with me leading two youth workshop groups featuring high school students from all over Winnipeg and the area – each with a specific goal in mind. I love working in goal-oriented spaces as I get to turn on my “director/editor” brain to help shape the ideas and writing into transformative outcomes.

The first was a smaller group of 6 students who were gathered by the Manitoba Council for International Cooperation for their Voices for Change program. Over the course of two weekends, we learned about issues related to gender roles, learned spoken word skills, wrote and then rehearsed an ensemble piece based on the topic, and then had the piece recorded on video — phew!

And that’s not to mention their stellar performance at the Legislature during International Development Week. Check out the piece, called “Shaping Us,” on YouTube.

Next, I met with another group of high school students as part of Creative Manitoba’s Careers in the Arts Program, where I returned as workshop facilitator. Every second Tuesday, we met at the Millennium Library to build on career ideas and constructive writing skills with the help of guest writers from the community, including Keith Cadieux, Colleen Nelson, Stephen Sim + Caity Curtis, Brian Drader, Lori Cayer, and Jennifer Still.

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Each had something different to offer the students based on their own journeys as writers, and it all added up to some significant professional development – in particular, the publication of their work in our very own, bonafide anthology. Titled, “These Words Make Worlds,” the collection was completely written by the students, and designed and edited by myself. With help from the folks at McNally Robinson, the anthology was printed and launched at a public event at the Carol Shields Auditorium to the encouragement of parents and friends.

In early spring, I took part in a collaborative effort between Thin Air and Blue Metropolis writers festivals to teach and learn from some of Canada’s newest citizens. Over the course of a few days, I met with students at Hugh John Macdonald School to develop writing that explored their identities and stories as immigrants moving away from spaces of conflict towards a new home. The writing was then collected and published alongside other stories from across the country as part of the My Roots Project.

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This project was particularly special in that I had the honour of experiencing the culture of a community-based school. The positive, enriching vibes were palpable as I engaged with students to explore the use of the English language, which was new to most. I’ll tell you that the learning curve did little to hold back any of the bright personalities I encountered, and I hope to return there sometime soon!

I’m looking forward to the launch of the collection, to take place at a special event during Thin Air in September, which will also be a part of Culture Days. Stay tuned for more info on that, as we’ll get to hear the words coming from the young voices themselves!

Jump ahead to May, where I took part in a UNESCO Peace Literacy Conference at the Canadian Museum of Human Rights. There, students from UNESCO schools across Canada gathered to learn and discuss skills of mindfulness in human connections, building the capacity for respect and conflict resolution. My part was in collaboration with Jordyn Sheldon from The Manitoba Association for Rights and Liberties to first teach students about privilege and intersectionality, and then to take action with art, in creating calls to action. These took form of short chants that used poetic devices of rhythm and rhyme to engage with listeners, in the same way protest chants carry strong messages by large groups of people to enact change.

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I’m especially proud of my work, both creative and educational, that has the potential to effect audiences and produce an outcome of transformation. It’s inspiring and empowering to see it happen in front of me, and it does so much to validate my practice – to myself and funders as well!

After all these workshops, I finally got the chance to focus on my own creative development as an ensemble member at the Sasktatoon Poetic Arts Festival. Joining 9 other poets from across the country for about a week, we engaged in workshops, collaborative creating sessions, and nightly performances to step out of our comfort zones and transform significantly as artists. This was particularly the case for our final, one of a kind show, which was entirely conceived of earlier that day!

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I have to give a warm thanks to festival director Brendan Flaherty for organizing us all into a safe supportive space to create and be artists. This festival, which is the offspring of the now defunct Victoria Spoken Word Festival, is essential to developing spoken word artists, existing well outside the competitive slam spaces most are familiar with. Now an alum of both festivals, I can speak to the value of the space in forming lasting bonds with other artists, and the immeasurable creative and professional development opportunities that have, and will continue to spring from the experience.

Carrying that vibe onward, I’m excited to announce the return of the Winnipeg Poetry Slam to the Winnipeg Fringe Festival in our sequel production of SLAM! Featuring 7 of the finest local spoken word poets (and one from Edmonton!) as well as an affable host, we’ll be throwing down in a poetry slam tournament where the winner receives a cash prize!

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Using the format of a slam competition to draw in the Fringe crowd to participate as cheerers, jeerers, and audience judges, this production functions at its best, as a showcase of both established and up-and-coming talent. Last year’s production was a success in both audience turnout and professional development for the entire team, and with the help of a Winnipeg Arts Council grant, I’m intending on building the production towards new heights in contributing to the Winnipeg Poetry Slam community at large.

Be sure to check in at the WPS website for info on our ensemble, as well as updates on tournament scores and rankings!

Moving further onwards…

New material?…The Winnipeg International Writers Festival?…A residency and a winter carnival in Selkirk?…A rural mentorship?…The ever looming shadow of a novel-in-progress hanging over my head?

Come back for a visit to find out more!

 

Voices For Change

Voices for Change 2018 Poster

Partnering with the Manitoba Council for International Cooperation, I’ll be facilitating a spoken word project with youth ages 14-24. We’ll be meeting for workshop sessions that build on creative writing and performance skills to create a group piece focused on the topic of gender equality.

The group piece will be recorded by professional videographers and posted online, as well as performed live in front of an audience at a special event during International Development Week!

This will be my third time partnering with MCIC, and each past group has come up with some exceptional material that you can watch online.

Sign up is open for the 2018 project, and I’m looking forward to working with the new batch of writers next month!

Deadline is December 11, so spread the word!

Youth, Get Creative!

ACI Youth Reading

Applications are open for Creative Manitoba’s Careers in the Arts Mentorship Programs! 

I’m excited to be returning to the program to facilitate a youth creative writing group. Last year, I had the chance to meet a super team of bright and engaging youth who gathered every second Tuesday between January and April at the Millennium Library. There, we held discussions on writing and the creative life featuring guest lecturers from the local community like Kate Vermette, Sharanpal Ruprai, and Writers in Residence John K. Samson and Christine Fellowes. In those workshops, students explored various genres including fiction, poetry, and spoken word, and constructed thoughtful pieces that were edited, collected and printed in an anthology that was officially launched in a reading in the Carol Shields Auditorium.

It’s a great opportunity for youth to get not only a sense of their voice expressed through writing, but to build an awareness of the local writing community and the career-building opportunities therein.

Applications for this year’s group are due by Friday, December 15 2017, and are open to youth aged 16-19. Hit up the link above to learn more! I can’t wait to meet the new group in the New Year!

…and grace, too.

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On October 17 Canada lost one of its icons, and a man that seemed to embody the spirit of the country in songs of its history, culture – and especially, and most recently – its future.

Gord Downie continued to be a huge influence on me in my developing years, and it was truly an emotional day (if not week!) spent reflecting on his career. I teared up at memories of seeing The Tragically Hip live in concert, and of listening to my favourite albums (Fully, Completely, Road Apples, and Trouble at the Henhouse) on road trips through the Canadian Shield, alone in my bedroom contemplating the art I’d create someday, and the journeys I’d make to faraway places with those songs of home in my heart. I remember that watching the live broadcast of The Hip’s final concert in Old Market Square was a very fond farewell, without feeling like it was really over. Still doesn’t.

If there’s one thing I can take away from Gord’s work as a poet and musician, it’s that his lyrics expressed not just how to be Canadian, but why. In particular, the work that’s been released since the announcement of his illness has had significant impact on me as a settler on this land, with the Secret Path Project teaching me lessons on humility, dignity and grace. Of course, such a thing can’t possibly replace authentic voices in art reflecting lived Indigenous experience, but I’ve recently been giving a lot of reflection on the process by which Gord approached the Wenjack family, bore witness to the story, and produced the material which is now being used as an educational tool for Truth and Reconciliation. It is a teaching on how a settler can, and perhaps should, engage with the history of Indigenous genocide in a way that produces something meaningful, and contributes to the decolonization of the country, and of ourselves.

As he said to Justin Trudeau in Kingston at his band’s final concert, and which rings true for all of us, “…we’re going to figure it out, you’re going to figure it out.”

And so I’m proud to say that I’m helping to organize, and will be performing in a tribute show alongside a list of musicians and fellow poets called “Ahead by a Century – A Charity Tribute to Gord Downie” taking place at The Pyramid Cabaret on November 10. Acts will be performing their favourite tunes by Gord and The Hip, and proceeds will go towards both The Gord Downie Fund for Brain Cancer Research, and The Downie/Wenjack Fund.

I’m looking forward to sharing some of Gord’s work from his collection, Coke Machine Glow, and to singing along with the other artists at the top of my lungs.

 

An October Re-cap

 

October was a heck of a month, full of travel to new places and meeting people that have opened me up to new ideas!

Days after we wrapped up the Winnipeg International Writers Festival, I was sponsored by the Manitoba Council for International Cooperation for a road trip up to Opaskwayak Cree Nation. There, students from upper Manitoba congregated for a conference on the interconnected relationship to life on land, and learned from yours truly about how to use their voices to speak up for sustainability.

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Next was a bit of fun with the folks at IF: The Winnipeg Improv Festival. Gathering one afternoon, a few of us spoken word poets collaborated with improvisers on a brand new show which debuted that very night! Building scenes off of snippets of poems, we went back and forth until the show culminated in a wild cacophony of sounds and bodies. You’ll never know what happens until it does, and it was a great experience to perform outside of my comfort zone!

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The end of October saw the Canadian Festival of Spoken Word touch down in Nogojiwanong, a.k.a. Peterborough, Ontario. Traveling year to year, the festival hosts poetry slam teams from across the country in a national competition, as well as a full program of workshops, master classes, panels and showcases. Qualifying in early June, our own Winnipeg Poetry Slam Team (comprised of myself, Joanne Schapansky, Kier Mailan and Lindsey Olver) brought heartfelt poetry to the stage, and soaked in all the fun of the annual “poet camp.”

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More than the performances, I took away a bundle of new ideas on how to decolonize my art, and build a sense of inclusiveness in the local slam community by acknowledging the land and history that it’s built upon. Special thanks to The Winnipeg Arts Council for sponsoring a portion of the trip!

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As the season changes, I can feel myself expanding and contracting with every  experience, and I look forward to the art and community that will be built around each new idea!

Upcoming Shows in September

It’s going to be a busy month!

On Friday, September 1st, I’ll be joining fellow spoken word poets as well as local improv legends Stephen Sim and Caity Curtis for a First Friday event at Little Brown Jug. There, us poets will be sharing written pieces that the 2 improv gurus will play off of, creating short scenes. In the past, I’ve had the pleasure of working with both Stephen and Caity in a similar format and I can say that it’s a lot of fun to be a part of – and watch!

This show is presented by THIN AIR: The Winnipeg International Writers Festival which kicks off later in September. We’ll be hosting Stephen and Caity there for the “Forewords” event on opening night, as well as a bevy of writers from across the globe! I say “we” because I’m a part of the staff helping to put the festival together (it’s my day job)!

Next, I’ll be performing alongside me fellow Winnipeg Poetry Slam teammates at the Anything Goes Slam – where the rules (except for the time-limit) are thrown out (oh, and the nudity rule as well)! I’ll be trying out material to be used for the national poetry slam competition at the Canadian Festival of Spoken Word in late October. I’m excited to dust off some old work, and try out some new stuff!

Finally, Thom Bargen is hosting a Winnipeg spoken word showcase at their downtown location as part of Nuit Blanche. The Winnipeg Poetry Slam will be well represented there by a fantastic lineup of voices that have comprised recent slam teams. Come see the best of the best before the slam season kicks off later this fall!

All that said, October will be a whole other story: a trip to The Pas to engage youth in public speaking through spoken word workshops, and of course, CFSW itself!

SLAM! Wraps up at WINNIPEG FRINGE!

You might have heard through social media posts already, but here’s the official announcement: Our inaugural SLAM! Champion is Tiana Northage!!!!!!!
Our Finals saw the best crowd of our run, and amazing performances from our poets on stage. Thank you to those who spread the word about our little niche production, which is only just a taste of what you might experience in the Winnipeg Poetry Slam community.
Big thanks to Rob Malo for hosting the entire run, and doing a fantastic job of it at that! Also to KimmyZee Jaremglinski for her hard work in mentoring me through the process of building and promoting a show (Rob did a fair bit of that too!).
Big love to my fellow poets who showed up for meetings, fundraisers and shows, knowing that they were all stepping outside of their comfort zones to grow as writers and performers. To Rob Malo, Mike Johnston, Tino Hove, Brenden Gali, Larysa Musick, Kortnee Stevens, KimmyZee, and Tiana Northage, thank you all for coming along on this ride with me. I’m so proud and honored to have experienced this with you.
Thank you to our volunteers, Aaron Simm, Amber O’Reilly, Kier Mailan, Lindsey Olver, Mason Victor Kanne, and Joanne Schapansky for helping us make the show happen. Super big thanks to Stephen Sim, Caitlin Curtis, Rob Gee and Penny Ashton for joining us and helping us to build a space inside of the Fringe community!
We have something here, folks. Something that impacted audience members enough to come back and see us a second and third time. I can’t wait to see the show, and our community grow as a result!