Setting the Record Straight

Posted: December 2, 2014 in Uncategorized

Most people who read this blog know who I am and what I do.

Sometimes I want to speak for myself but no matter what I do, some people perceive it as me speaking for the Capital Poetry Collective.

There isn’t a whole lot I can do about that. I still have my opinions. I still have things I want to speak out about. There are still things that I get to say without it being filtered through ‘official channels’.

This has happened before. When I spoke out against people saying misogynistic things on our stage or at our show, some people got mad. They said that ‘in my position’ I shouldn’t say such things.

Well, I am in a similar situation again. I am being attacked by Ottawa’s biggest blowhard, John Akpata.

Somehow this all revolves around ‘Safer Spaces’.

Well here it is. Let’s put it all out there.

None of this is the CPC speaking, it is just me.

A while back, we received second and third hand complaints about a poet in the scene (Array-of-Words) and possible Safe Space violations. This was the first time I, personally, had heard of any concerns along those lines. Since then I have been told (and I believe) that there have been concerns about him and other poets all along, but at the time, I didn’t know about them.
Honestly, people don’t talk about stuff like that to the ‘old guy’.

We looked into it. Nobody would talk. Nobody would actually file a complaint. The most we got was “this person told me that…” and ‘this person’ denied it.

We had nothing.

Not knowing any better, I decided to just try to keep my eyes and ears open and try to be hyper-aware.

It is important to note that we were criticized for INVESTIGATING the allegations by John Akpata.

Oh how quickly some people can switch from defending the accused to claiming some sort of moral high ground.

Time passed. More and more, I became aware of the general misogynist nature of our society. I mean, I already KNEW, but it was becoming something that I started really paying attention to and wow… it is everywhere.

Meanwhile, something else shifted. I used to try to address people saying hateful things on stage in a quiet manner. The early issue with Gavin Russell was dealt with successfully. The (first) issue with Shaun Sullivan was handled sloppily. It was the first time someone had questioned our rules from the opposite angle… as in ‘why do you allow that on stage?’
Before then, every time we brought up Safe Space in the AGM, the people there would insist that ‘freedom of speech’ was paramount. So, when someone asks why we ‘allowed’ someone to say something on stage the answer was ‘we can’t control what they say on stage’.

I’ll be blunt and say that this answer is no longer satisfactory to me.

Then came the night that I have blogged about, when both Omar and Fash said things to tip me over the edge. I said enough is enough, and I started calling people out publicly.

Did I take heat for it? Yes I did. Too bad. Volunteering to act as Slam Master for CapSlam does not invalidate my right to an opinion and my right to stand up for what I see as right.

We started hearing the second hand stuff about Ray again. We removed him as OYPS Slam Master.
Then we got a formal complaint. For the first time, we had someone who was willing to step forward.

This next sentence took me minutes to write because I take things like privacy seriously. We agreed to confidentiality at the meeting, but the reality is, RAY already broke that confidentiality. He went and told someone about everything that happened, including the name of the person who had filed a complaint against him.

As far as I am concerned, if he can talk about it, so can I. (Though I am not naming anyone else in that meeting.)

At the meeting Ray agreed to a ban. He said he would not attend any Ottawa poetry shows for an indefinite period.

That is what the person who filed the complaint asked for and that is what they got.

That seemed, at the time, to be the first steps towards a successful resolution.

Seemed. At the time.

The next thing that happened is that Greg Frankson flipped out and started yelling that we had somehow violated Ray’s rights and that CapSlam shouldn’t be allowed to attend CFSW and a bunch of other absolute nonsense.

I now believe that the reason he was doing that wasn’t to defend Ray, but to try and make it harder for anyone to come after him.

For those who were at CFSW and witnessed how angry I was at Greg, it was about this. As far as I was concerned, he had interfered in our attempt to deal with a safe space violator and tried to obstruct our attempts to make the scene safer. He had even told people NOT involved in the process who the person who filed the complaint was! Absolutely unacceptable!

We used to be friends but that day was definitely gone. I still had no idea how much worse it was going to get.

In the meantime, John asked us to readdress what Gavin had said on stage. He asked for a meeting that included Brad, Gavin, John and myself. We had it. John was quite amicable. He seemed to completely accept Gavin’s apology. He asked Gavin to put it in a letter and post it on the CPC blog. He wrote the letter and I posted it.

Then the Frankson complaint came in. Multiple women. Multiple complaints. Ranging from Sexual Harassment to Sexual Assault. Greg Frankson. One of the founders of the Collective.

This time we had more experience than the time with Ray. Not much, but some.

We used to have a Safe Space group but it had pretty much dissolved. We had a group who had agreed to put together some Safe Policy (led by John Akpata) but nothing had been done. Brad and I talked about who we could pull together for a grievance committee and we agreed with the make up so a meeting was called.

(Once again, I am not going to ‘out’ the committee members, but for the purpose of this discussion I need to say that Akpata was there.)

The conversation about the banning went quicker than expected. Where I thought this meeting was going to be the start of the process, everyone was very clear in that they wanted to call for a ban right now. So we did that. The person who filed the complaint had asked for a statement about him being banned (something that was not part of the request when we dealt with Ray), so we did that.

There was some concern over the wording of the statement. John insisted that we NOT say what he was banned for. We reached a compromise. An unsatisfactory one, in hindsight.

Throughout the meeting, though, I witnessed the worst behaviour that I could imagine as John badgered and bullied the woman who brought the complaint forward. He complained about HER behaviour and claimed that she wasn’t doing enough.

(Am I sensing a theme? John, who has done nothing to try and help improve things in our scene, even going back to the first days when people are telling me that ‘everybody knew’ about Greg… does that include you, John? What did YOU do about it? HE wants to tell other people, who are TRYING to help people and make things better that they aren’t doing enough… or are doing too much… or basically not doing EXACTLY what he thinks they should.)

We walked away in agreement to the ban and the statement, which was what the person who filed the complaint had asked for.

(Each time we had a formal grievance we ended up doing exactly what was asked by the complainant.)

Also, the woman who filed the complaint informed us that she would also be filing a complaint with Spoken Word Canada. I am pretty sure we offered her our support if she needed it.

Then, two things happened. We made our statement and the nationwide community took notice of it.

And John started acting in a completely irresponsible fashion. He started complaining that we weren’t acting properly. He threatened to try and get our funding cut-off. He threatened to get our show shut down. He threatened a grievance against me personally. He threatened a grievance against Ruthanne.

Remember, John was part of the meeting where we took action. He agreed to everything we did. So he was complaining that we weren’t doing enough. (Really he was complaining that everyone didn’t do EXACTLY what he suggested. How dare people have their own opinions on things!)

He also started saying things which I would like to call errors but I am CERTAIN that John knows the truth. He was THERE. That means they aren’t errors.

He claimed we were deleting posts from the group we had set up. That never happened.

He claimed we had ‘done nothing’ about Ray when he knew that wasn’t true.

He claimed we had ‘done nothing’ about Gavin when he ABSOLUTELY knew it wasn’t true.

He claimed we hadn’t done anything to develop a proper grievance policy, when HE was the one heading up the group that was supposed to be developing the policy!

So, what then?

Well, while we were trying to deal with the fallout from the Frankson statement (many other scenes have now banned him. The media got hold of it but at the request of the women who had filed the complaint, we have had no comment), we now had to deal with Akpata trying to destroy everything that had been built. (Not for the first time. I was once in a meeting with him about the then-new Urban Legends where he claimed that CapSlam was done and should get out of the way for the new show.)

This takes me back to a really important point. Some people think we should call the police. Some people think we should talk to the press. I am not personally opposed to doing either of those things, but the problem is the VICTIMS have said they don’t want either of those things to happen.

Let me make this crystal clear: you don’t make safer spaces by ignoring the wishes of the victims. If you start doing that you will no longer have people coming forward. If that happens, it is all done.

So, now what? Well, we have had a victim come forward to ask for a new resolution on a previous complaint. The request was completely reasonable and we are working on resolving that right now.

It is POSSIBLE that John isn’t aware of that, I suppose.

So, now let’s look at what he just decided to mislead the public about, shall we?

Ray Guillermo aka ArRay-of WoRds is leaving Ottawa. No doubt to work with youth and the vulnerable. Many people, including men, women and youth (minors, children) have complained about his conduct to the Director Brad Morden, Slam Master Rusty Priske and Volunteer Coordinator Ruthanne Edwards many times over the years. The same people who led a ‘Safe Space’ crusade against Greg Frankson are the very people who have been willfully blind to the actions of Ray. No grievance filed with SpoCan, no public statement, no reports to the media. I would like to know why.

Can we pick apart this statement?

I’ll skip the first sentence because other than knowing that Ray announced he was moving away, I have no idea what he plans to do or where he plans to go.

“Many people, including men, women and youth (minors, children) have complained about his conduct to…”

I covered this above but I do want to be really clear on one point… to the best of my knowledge (as in, I can’t speak for Brad and Ruthanne) we have never heard a complaint about Ray FROM youth. When we investigated the second hand complaints, none of the youth would agree to speak on the complaints. The fact that there were second hand complaints… yes. I will not deny that at all. At the time I was convinced that if there wasn’t a formal complaint that would COULD NOT act on it. I no longer believe that.

Ruthanne Edward hasn’t been the volunteer co-ordinator in… at least three years, I think. Small point but still…

“Safe Space’ crusade against Greg Frankson…” interesting choice of words. What ‘crusade’ is that? Does John mean the when we resolved the grievance against him that John was part of the committee for? So is he now implying that we SHOULDN’T have banned Greg? He was pretty adamant IN the meeting that we should, so what are we to think here?

John’s selective memory again? Like how he is forgetting that he criticized us for investigating the complaints against Ray in the first place?

“have been willfully blind to the actions of Ray” Again, an odd choice of words considering the fact that Ray IS banned from our shows. If he means that we didn’t do enough he should say we didn’t do enough. Don’t lie and claim we did nothing.

“No grievance filed with SpoCan” Well, of course not. We didn’t file a grievance with SpoCan about Greg either. The persona who filed with us also filed with them. We told the person who filed a complaint with us about Ray that if she wanted to file with SpoCan that we would help her, just as we did for the Frankson grievance. She (thus far) has chosen not to do that. (Possibly partially due to the SpoCan Anti-Appression Committee mandate that says they will only deal with complaints about incidents that happen at SpoCan events. This is a rule that I strongly disagree with.)

“no public statement” The initial complainant never asked for a public statement and we were following her wishes. I now happen to believe that a public statement should be standard but since we have been through this exactly twice it is hard to claim a precedent has been set. This is also a work in progress.

“no reports to the media” We did not speak to the media about Frankson either. Based on reports I have seen, the only person who went against the wishes of the women who had filed the complaint was David Silverberg and A: he is not part of the CPC and B: he may not have known before he spoke that the women had asked for this plan of action. I have no idea.

“I would like to know why.” No, he would like to raise hell. If he wanted to know the answers to the questions he would have spoken to me when I reached out to him twice after he decided to go on the attack following the Frankson statement.

And now somebody will tell me I shouldn’t have posted this and that I should try to settle things and an amicable manner.

Well, I went through a lot of my life being the person who tried to ‘smooth things over’. I refuse to continue to let a bully be a bully.

Criticize me. Go ahead. But TELL THE TRUTH. Do not try to slant things around to try and make yourself look good and try to be a conquering hero after years of doing nothing.

I don’t claim everything I have done has worked exactly the way I had hoped but I am going to stand by this: I am always going to try and do the right thing. Even when it hurts. Even when it puts me at risk.

Why was mad at Greg BEFORE I found out about the complaints of assault? Because he was making it less likely that victims would come forward. He was trying to make it harder for us to do the right thing.
(probably to protect himself, as it turned out.)

Why am I now mad at John?

The exact same reason.

Why Beard?

Posted: November 19, 2014 in Uncategorized

Another poem post?

Well, kind of…

CONTEXT: May, 2012

Rather than put an explanation here, I think I will connect through to where I have already explained it.

It isn’t the BEST parody of Why Art? ever done. (That would be Nathanael Larochette’s ‘Why Fart?) But it was still pretty epic.

But, now, I am going to include the cam-footage of the blessed event.

Why Beard?

I heard asked,
“Why Beard?”
At first I couldn’t
Understand the question
As Why Beard sounded
To me like
When your ears or
Where your nose.
Then I realized they meant
Why grow a beard eschewing
Razors and having cream.
I think that is the wrong musing.
It should be, “If not for
Beard, why exist?”
Facial protection needs to persist
As people look for a covering,
Something less galling or appalling
Then one of those over-groomed
Chin-strap things.
Whether it is a wizard flow
You bring from an upper lip
And a chine of a devil’s fork
You grow to pretend at
Sin.
Since we were apes
We knew to not be nude is to be
Covered, furry, shaggy and fuzzy.

So is it beard for beard’s sake?
Life without beard is breezy and chilly.
Clean shaven is childish and silly.
Life grows beard, shows beard.
We stroke it every day,
Admire it in every way.
Beard coats us,
Covers us, disguises us,
Protects us from windburn and
Snow chill and unfettered
Face slaps.
It takes your cheek and
Gives it a sweet caress,
It takes your lip and covers it
In a fuzzy mess.
It takes your chin,
Sprouts your follicles
Until it is full of a curly
Garden of copper and rust
And maybe some moist remnants of lust.

So is it Beard for Life’s sake?
Do beards just get you through the day?
Morning to night just to say
Job well done, its purpose served?
A fuzz for a chin preserved
Like an orangey apeman face
To make up for a receding hairline
One inch at a time.

Beards makes cold cheeks warmer,
And spongier, and even softer!
They can look distinguished
But don’t have to be,
They can be grizzly
But that’s not all they can be.
They can be chaotic and tangly,
Playful and meandering,
Pointing the way ahead
Or growing down the neck
Or thrusting to the sides,
Nowhere to hide
Except behind beards…
But beards expose instead of disguise,
Or is it the other way around?

So is it Life for Beard’s sake?
Do we like to just grow our chops,
To be unique and warm-cheeked,
Loved and be-fuzzed.
Are profiles adorned
With majestic man-fuzz of
History and the promise
Of chin weasels to come?

Beards as adornment
Remember only the outward
Protrusions, ignoring the
Trimmer, shaver, barbers
With razors.
Beards extend from ear
To lip and chin,
Beards show our face
And hide your sins.

Beards are Life
And Lives are Beards.

They cannot be
Artlessly shorn
Like a dwarven version of
Samson as
Gandalf reminds us that
Beards impress, egress,
Flowing and showy.

All that is manly is beard,
No matter whether grown or
Put on with an applique.
A grizzly adams is a beard.
A goatee is a beard.
That little tickle on the
Curve of your cheek,
The nape of your neck,
Or the insides of your
Thighs
That tells you…

Oh… HE is the ONE-
BEARD!
To ignore beard is to
Ignore wife,
So Why Beard?
I’m afraid I’m going to have to
Start regrowing one.

Joe DiMaggio (new version)

Posted: November 18, 2014 in Uncategorized

The other day I posted a poem called Joe DiMaggio.

After I posted it, a talented fellow poet of my acquaintance (Meme), pointed out that the juxtaposition of the content of the poem with the title didn’t work. There was a story behind the title, but DiMaggio himself had a very troubled history filled with abuse, especially towards his one-time spouse, Marilyn Monroe.

I read up and couldn’t agree more. I considered changing the title of the poem but instead I added a verse.

Here is the new version.

Joe DiMaggio

Where have you gone, Bob Dylan?
We could use the
Call from the wilderness
And a voice of a generation
To stand up and say
Enough is enough
And it is time for a change
But be careful
Because not all change is
Progress
And the times they are
A’changing back
To a simpler time
When men were men
And women knew their place,
Birth control was god’s will
And abortions were kept in
Back alleys.
Workers were just parasites
And Lady Justice had
A direct line to societal
Cheques and balances
Where a verdict was tied
Closer to bank account And skin tone then
Facts and evidence.

Where have you gone, Margaret Sanger?
We have come so far
Yet watching the systematic
Dismantling of women’s rights
Under the guise of
Financial conservatism
And religious determinism
Feels somehow unreal
Like watching a parallel
Dimension where
Don Draper chauvinism has
Remained static for forty years
Instead of being forced under
Wraps behind a veneer of
Progressive civilization.
They are building a
Sexual prison where
Women’s bodies are public property
And roles are proscribed and
Atwood-esque.
All aided and abetted
By well-meaning men
Who think that dictating
Dress and behaviour and
Calling it freedom
Isn’t another word
For misogyny.

Where have you gone, Tommy Douglas?
As Stephen Harper lines up
His strike busting goons
Carrying briefcases
Rather than axe-handles
Forgetting than a union
Is a joining of strengths
And an attack on unions
Is an attack on people,
But when the right
Doesn’t care about rights,
Cries for a fair deal
Are all that is left.

Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio
As the nation turns it’s lonely eyes to you?
Conflating talent with heroism
While not all obsessions are created equal.
A career of piling up the hits
Didn’t end with him hanging up the glove
But we keep protecting damaged men
Instead of dealing with the damage
Without concern for those women
Not wearing the away team’s uniforms.

And where have you gone,
Martin Luther King Jr.?
Oh wait, I know that one –
He was gunned down for
Saying things that challenged
Society because
Words can be dangerous.
But how far have we come
If now all a black man named
Martin had to do to be shot
Is wear a hoodie
In a community designed to
Keep him out?
We inherited a world
Moving away from wives as
Property, workers as serfs
And pride in a White America
And we have sat back and
Watched a backslide to
Regressive double-speak
Like Family Values and
Moral Centers.

Do not be complacent.
The snake is speaking in tongues
And it whispers stories of
Fear and control.
Do not be complacent
As the right continues
To plow us under
Using economic leverage
To get us to agree to
Anything.
Do not be complacent
Or the world is already theirs.

Joe DiMaggio

Posted: November 16, 2014 in Uncategorized

What’s that? A new poem post?

Well, I usually wait unit I have slammed a poem, but that may to change to when I perform a poem. At least that is the case right now and I did this piece as the sacrificial poet at CapSlam last night.

CONTENT: April, 2012

Wait, did I call this a new poem?

This shows you how far behind I am in slamming. Whenever I spend time on a team or whatever, I concentrate on working poems for that team and just get further and further behind.

One thing you may notice, if you have my latest book, This is Day One (plug, plug), is that the poem here is slightly different from the version printed there.

The wonders of Spoken Word!

Here is a story. I was at VERSeFest (a poetry festival in Ottawa that I used to help organize) talking to one of our features (good friend and amazing poet, Mary Pinkoski) as we heard one of the ‘page’ poets say (more or less): well, I am not sure I like the ending. I changed it back and forth a few times but now it is the book so I am stuck with it.

Mary and I looked at each other and said: uh no. You can change it whenever you want.

That is Spoken Word. We can change it whenever we want.

One of the strengths and drawbacks of Spoken Word is that people can’t always see what you are saying as part of the bigger context. Not everybody listens intently to every word so there are certain things that are hard to pull off while assuming that everybody will understand what you mean.

One of those things is sarcasm.

So, as I was memorizing this poem I realized that I had a couple of problem spots. In print, I was pretty sure what I was saying was crystal clear, but out loud, I wasn’t so sure.

One of those lines was “Abortions stayed in back alleys where they belonged”.

I thought in the poem it was pretty clear that I didn’t mean the “where they belonged” part. Out loud, I wasn’t so sure, so I dropped that part of the line.

There also is a line “When men were men and women knew their place”. I left that one is because I figured in my performance I could make it clear what I was saying. I think it worked. (There are other small changes as well.)

Now, let me tell you about the name of the poem.

You may wonder why it is called Joe DiMaggio where there is literally no mention of Joe DiMaggio anywhere in the poem.

Well, there used to be. When I was initially writing it, I used the ‘where have you gone’ motif as a hook. I took that motif from the song Mrs. Robinson by Simon & Garfunkle.

(That is the sort of song you used to not have to explain. I am getting old…)

The first line of the poem WAS “Where have you gone Joe DiMaggio?” When I worked the poem up, however, the DiMaggio section DIDN’T work. (I also need to add the Margaret Sanger section.)

So I dropped it… but kept the title. Why? In-jokes amuse me.

So, does everyone want to know who all the people named in the poem are?

Learning is fun!

Joe DiMaggio

Bob Dylan (and the song reference)

Margaret Sanger

Tommy Douglas

Stephen Harper (boo hiss)

Martin Luther King Jr.

Trayvon Marton (the ‘black man named Martin ref)

So, here it is…

Joe DiMaggio

Where have you gone, Bob Dylan?
We could use the
Call from the wilderness
And a voice of a generation
To stand up and say
Enough is enough
And it is time for a change
But be careful
Because not all change is
Progress
And the times they are
A’changing back
To a simpler time
When men were men
And women knew their place,
Birth control was god’s will
And abortions were kept in
Back alleys.
Workers were just parasites
And Lady Justice had
A direct line to societal
Cheques and balances
Where a verdict was tied
Closer to bank account And skin tone then
Facts and evidence.

Where have you gone, Margaret Sanger?
We have come so far
Yet watching the systematic
Dismantling of women’s rights
Under the guise of
Financial conservatism
And religious determinism
Feels somehow unreal
Like watching a parallel
Dimension where
Don Draper chauvinism has
Remained static for forty years
Instead of being forced under
Wraps behind a veneer of
Progressive civilization.
They are building a
Sexual prison where
Women’s bodies are public property
And roles are proscribed and
Atwood-esque.
All aided and abetted
By well-meaning men
Who think that dictating
Dress and behaviour and
Calling it freedom
Isn’t another word
For misogyny.

Where have you gone, Tommy Douglas?
As Stephen Harper lines up
His strike busting goons
Carrying briefcases
Rather than axe-handles
Forgetting than a union
Is a joining of strengths
And an attack on unions
Is an attack on people,
But when the right
Doesn’t care about rights,
Cries for a fair deal
Are all that is left.

And where have you gone,
Martin Luther King Jr.?
Oh wait, I know that one –
He was gunned down for
Saying things that challenged
Society because
Words can be dangerous.
But how far have we come
If now all a black man named
Martin had to do to be shot
Is wear a hoodie
In a community designed to
Keep him out?
We inherited a world
Moving away from wives as
Property, workers as serfs
And pride in a White America
And we have sat back and
Watched a backslide to
Regressive double-speak
Like Family Values and
Moral Centers.

Do not be complacent.
The snake is speaking in tongues
And it whispers stories of
Fear and control.
Do not be complacent
As the right continues
To plow us under
Using economic leverage
To get us to agree to
Anything.
Do not be complacent
Or the world is already theirs.

For those of you that know, the term ALLY is used to refer to people who stand up for people fighting against various social ills despite not being part of the group that is being oppressed or otherwise discriminated against.

This is a term that is generally used as a compliment, bestowed by someone FROM the oppressed group upon the person doing the supporting. (Though sometimes it is used by someone to refer to themselves… that is kind of weird, in my opinion. It is like referring to yourself as enlightened or insightful. That is the kind of label that should only be applied by others.)

I am male. If I stand up against misogyny, I am called an ally.
I am white. If I stand up against racism, I am called an ally.
I am heterosexual. If I stand up against homophobia, I am called an ally.
I am cis-gendered. If I stand up against transphobia, I am called an ally.

The reason I am not completely at ease with this term is that it implies that these things ‘aren’t my fight’. It implies I am somehow being altruistic or something.

Let me make it very clear that I DO recognize that there is a BIG difference between being the object of oppression and being witness to it. I am not claiming AT ALL that the experience is the same. If I wanted to turn my back and pretend it wasn’t happening, I could do that. (That is, if my conscience would let me.)

Having said THAT, I don’t agree that it is ‘not my fight’. I am a human being. When I see misogyny, racism, homophobia, transphobia etc. I SEE it. I FEEL it. It makes me feel worse about the world and worse about the human race.

It is my fight because I care about it.

But still… I don’t feel those daggers except through empathy. Not the same. I GET that.
So, why do I still like it when I am called that?
Because when it happens, that person may be calling me a supporter in THEIR fight. They may be calling me someone who has their back. They may be saying that they appreciate the effort. They may be saying they felt alone and unsupported until that moment.
But mostly what I hear is them saying ‘Thank You’.

So if someone calls you an ally, don’t worry about the etymology of the word. Just be glad that your efforts are appreciated.
If nobody calls you an ally, that’s fine too. Just keep doing what is right. (But don’t label yourself, that is just weird.)

Mostly, let’s just try to make things better, one day at a time.

Day One.

John Akpata and Anthony Bansfield!

Zach: Stories

Posted: August 29, 2014 in Uncategorized

On Wednesday I featured at The Reading Series at the Clocktower Pub. It is put on by In/Words and is one of the few chances I have had to perform to a non ‘spoken word’ crowd. That was nice. Quiet crowd but I have learned to deal with that.

 

But then… but then…

 

We got home a little before midnight and I went straight to bed. I had to get up at 6am to go to work.

 

Somewhere around 2 I was woken up by a cry from the other room. I shot bolt upright and called out to Ruthanne who was sobbing in front of the computer.

 

She came in and told me, with tears streaming down her face, that Zaccheus Jackson had died.

 

I was stunned.

 

All we knew at first is that he had been hit by a train in Toronto. For a moment, I couldn’t even register what he was doing there, instead of home in Vancouver, but that is the life of a travelling artist.

 

I spent the next couple of hours, poring over Facebook – seeing the outpouring of grief and sharing in it.

 

I saw the nation-wide communities discover what we had lost… including those who should have found out in different ways.

 

This is the blessing and the curse of social media.

 

I ended up sending in that I wouldn’t be at work on Thursday… if for no other reason than my lack of sleep.

 

I slept for a bit and then got up and went back on FB… to discover the rest of the country waking up and learning what had happened.

 

Over and over, people learned for the first time what had been lost.

 

 

By the time Brad reached out and asked for a gathering of poets in Ottawa, I couldn’t do it. I asked Brad to hoist one for Zach for me.

 

That is what I needed, but what I lost was the telling of stories that comes with such gatherings. This little nuggets that mean so much to each person.

 

Here is mine…

 

I first met Zach at CFSW in 200 in Halifax, but it is two years later that resonates. At the festival that year, there was a ‘Last Chance Slam’ to make a Wild Card team. That team was really, really good. It included Magpie Ulysses, Truth Is…, Made Wade and… Zaccheus Jackson.

 

This was a good team and come finals day, they were right there.

 

Of course, this was 2009 and that was the year of The Recipe (though they weren’t called that yet).

 

Before the slam was over, the CapSlam team had won, mathematically, so when it was Zach’s turn to hit the stage, it wasn’t possible for his team to win, and he knew it.

 

So he went up, took the mic and said, “How are you all doing?” to the crowd and waited for an answer.

 

The answer was a gasp and mumbling from the poets.

 

For those that don’t know, in slam your time starts when you address the audience so to the poets, Zach had just ‘screwed up’ and it was going to cost him… but he knew that it didn’t matter, so he did it on purpose.

 

In fact, he then spoke again into the mic saying, “Come on, we all know what’s going on here!” He then turned to where we were sitting, gave a little bow and said, “Congratulations Ottawa.” Zach was the first to ‘announce’ our win.

 

He did so with respect and irreverence – which was a mix that defined Zach to a T.

 

I’ll admit that there were times in the last day that I was kind of mad… not at the universe or whatever, but at Zach. To die doing something that to me is just so stupid… so preventable…

 

But I will take my lead from Zach and with respect and irreverence just remember that gangly poet with the cocky demeanor and heavy introspection and rather than feel sad for him… or myself or the community… I’ll feel sad for all the kids that he had not yet spoken to.

 

But that is my story. If anybody else wants to share theirs, feel free. The mic is open…