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'I think people understanding that they aren't alone in their torment has a healing element to it'

Canadian poet Shane Koyczan speaks to TheJournal.ie about art, healing, and his latest work.

Shane Koyczan.

LINGO SPOKEN WORD festival was held in Dublin in October for the past three years.

The annual event aimed to showcase Ireland’s best spoken word talent and provide a platform for upcoming artists. Festival organisers announced earlier this month that they were calling a halt to the event, citing personal and time constraints.

A special one-off event will be held this Monday at 7.30pm, in The Workman’s Club in Dublin with Canadian poet and performer Shane Koyczan taking the stage.

Koyczan is a widely popular poet. He regularly performs to sold out venues and his work has amassed millions of views online. An animation of his poem To This Day (below) has over 20 million views on YouTube.

Source: Shane Koyczan/YouTube

His poetry deals with themes of isolation, bullying, education and childhood, among others.

Here, Shane speaks to TheJournal.ie a little about his work and motivation.

Q: When did you first begin writing poetry? When did you start performing?

A: I didn’t really start writing poems until university. Up until then I did mostly journalling. Performing didn’t start happening until I moved to Vancouver in 1999. Just hitting up open mics and such.

Q: Do you write poems to be performed? Do you see performance as a natural progression of the written word?

A: Everything written can be read aloud, but I don’t do that with every piece I write. Some of them just exist on the page. I think performance is a return to the tradition. Before we wrote things down we passed on our stories through spoken word.

Q: Your poetry deals a lot with themes of bullying and childhood. Most notably To This Day – what draws you to these subjects?

A: Life experience. Those are issues I’ve faced. I think people get hung up on that piece in particular and assume that it sums up the range of my work, but I delve into a lot of different things.

Q: Do people get in touch with you who may have bullied you in the past? What do they say?

A: Yes they do and without betraying anyone’s trust I’ll say that their stories are intensely personal.

Q: What is it that inspires you or your work? What does your more recent work focus on and why?

A: Real life. Things that happen to me and my environment. Right now I’m focusing more on education for a number of reasons, but mostly because I feel the way we educate needs to evolve. The world has changed and yet we cling to an aging system that doesn’t prepare students to live their lives with fulfillment.

Q:  Again to mention To This Day. The poem – like much of your work – has an element of healing to it. Do you think poetry (or art) can act as a form of healing for people?

A: I think people understanding that they aren’t alone in their torment has a healing element to it.

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Q:  Many of your poems have racked up tens of thousands (or millions) of views online. How do you think the internet has changed or influenced how we view and consume poetry? Do you think it (the internet; social media) is a good thing? For spreading poetry and art, and more generally. Or does it have drawbacks?

A: I think it’s made poetry accessible again. Teachers use it as a tool in their classrooms. I’d be hard pressed to call any forum that gives people an opportunity to use their voice and express themselves a bad thing.

Q: What do you say to you poets starting out? What advice would you give?

A: Keep everything you write. Regardless of whether you think it’s good or not. There’s no better way to chart your evolution and gauge your progress than to see how far along you’ve come.

Q: A lot of your work deals with people on the fringes of society. Why is it you choose to focus on these people?

A: Because they’re people that are often put out of our minds as we busy ourselves about the world, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be remembered, or considered.

Q: The US and much of the western world is going through a turbulent time politically at the moment. What are your thoughts on Donald Trump and American politics and does this influence your work?

A: Come to the show and find out.

Q: Any UK or Irish poets you’ve been interested by or enjoying on your trip?

A: Without name dropping and letting some feel excluded I can say that the scene in the U.K. is a strong one. The voices here have been tempered by trials great and small. I think these voices will help inspire others to use their own. To find the value in the only real weapon you have to fight for yourself and those you love.

You can buy tickets to see Shane here

Read: “Art’s job is to question the status quo, not to ever accept it” – Spoken word and social change

Read: “Humour resolves conflict, and it doesn’t threaten” – Blindboy on mental health, society and Gasc**tism

About the author:

Shane Koyczan.

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