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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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!