Posts Tagged ‘Shane Koyczan’


Posted: February 15, 2010 in Poetry
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A lot of stuff happened over the past few days and most of it is poetry related. Let me run over that before I get to today’s poem (which I also have a lot to talk about).

I already talked about Thursday and the “N” word. Before that happened, something happened that has affected the rest of my life over the past few days.

Long story short, I leaned against a desk which popped out from its wall bracket and went crashing to the floor, taking all of my stuff with it, landing on (and damaging) my computer. I fell backwards and smacked into a hanging cabinet with the back of my neck and traps.

I have been pretty sore ever since. I don’t think I am actually damaged (other than what feels like a nasty internal bruise on my neck), but it has made my whole back and neck stiff and I just ache.

I took Friday off work but now I am back and the missing desk is messing up my workspace.

Anyway… on to poetry stuff…

I missed Urban Legends on Friday (because of the soreness I mentioned), which was too bad, especially since Dwayne Morgan was in town.

Later, the thought of watching the Olympic Opening Ceremonies never even crossed my mind. I’ll express my opinion of the Olympics over at the Four Amigos blog at some point, but think of me as indifferent.

Then I heard what I missed. Luckily there was a rebroadcast and I managed to pvr it so I could watch it in the moring.

If you didn’t see it, and haven’t heard, Shane Koyczan performed as part of the ceremonies. Introduced as “Slam Poet Shane Koyczan”…


Beyond the power of his words (which were great), the idea that ONE OF OURS would be asked to take part in such an event… I’m at a loss. This is a man I have performed with, a few times. I consider him a friend.

I was just proud.

Then yesterday Danielle asked me to be a guest performer at her workshop in Carleton Place. I did the workshop, including writing a piece and co-writing another (one day I will write a post like this saying, “I once co-wrote a poem with Jenna Mackenzie…”). Danielle asked me to perform Just Start (which will likely be posted up here around a week from tomorrow at my current posting rate). She asked for that poem because it has been proven to be inspiring for certain people who never thought of art as something for them. I am talking about people who think that their time for such things had passed.

She was right and the connection was made again. One woman came to the workshop with her daughter, and stayed just to see what it was all about. After the performance she told me, “I always thought of creativity as being the domain of my husband and daughter, but your poem is making me think that I can do it.”


That is the sound of me feeling the REAL rewards of the craft… 🙂

CONTEXT: August, 2007

From the highs of performance poetry to the lows.

This is the most controversial poem I have ever done, which surprised the heck out of me, because I certainly never saw it that way.

I have mentioned previously on this blog about how poetry changed my life. This poem (prior to the controversy) is part of that… a reflection, if you will. As the summer passed and I was doing shows with my new (and FIRST!) poetry team as we prepared for our first Canadian Festival of Spoken Word appearance, I pondered how things had changed.

The festival was to be held in Halifax in October. I thought back to the only other time I had been to Halifax. It was 1986, the year I graduated high school. I had been in the Naval Reserves for a year and they were ramping up my training. They wanted me to be able to teach radio procedures to new trainees.

Most of that was a blur to me, because I went purely on auto-pilot. I had joined the Reserves because I had already been a cadet, and figured, why not get paid for it? After basic training I was asked if I wanted to be an officer. I am pretty sure this wasn’t a big personal thing… they asked everyone who was also a college or university student, and I was starting at Camosun College in the fall.

As will come out here and there in my poetry, I was not a happy person in my teenage years. Some will say, “who was?”, and that is fair, but I can’t speak to other people’s experiences, only my own. I only know that things felt like I was in a slow spiral, ending in… well, I had no idea.

Things came to their first climax when I was on course in Halifax. My only guess as to why it happened then is that I had lost my safety net. I couldn’t go home at the end of the day and be surrounded by my books and music and whatever.

For the first time (not the last, but I am happy to say it has been a VERY long time since the last time) I contemplated suicide.

I won’t say that I was clsoe to suicide, because really I wasn’t. I will just say that it started to feel like an option, if you know what I mean.

But, is this a dark, angsty poem? Not at all, because what I starting thinking about when I wrote this is how much my life had CHANGED since that day. I was going back to Halifax a completely different person. I was going to go and look at the building where I first thought of ending it and realize how much I have in my life to me grateful about and how much the world has turned into something completely different than what I had pictured.

It is a celebration.

Then I performed it at Capital Slam in September. I had planned to perform it first, but a couple of friends were in town from Montreal and they had never seen me perform so I decided to switch it up and do Why Art? first, to make sure they got to see me do what I thought was my best piece.

I got my first (and to date, only) perfect 30 while slamming. In the second round I did Halifax, and came very close to getting another perfect 30 (You need 4 10s to get a 30 and in the second round I got 3).

When I hit the end of the poem (back then the poem read ‘I am going back Halifax’ instead of ‘I’m back in Halifax’ as presented here or ‘I went back to Halifax’ as I did it later.) and asked ‘Who is coming with me?’ (again, that the was the pre-trip version), the ovation was huge. I was floating on cloud 9!

Then came the first controversy. When I went to pay the feature, she was surprised to see that I was one of the organizers (I was the treasurer back then and Danielle was the Director / Slam Master). She informed me that she thought it was wrong for me to win the event. I brushed it off, though I didn’t like it, because I was still busy being giddy. Later she told someone that I won due to ‘corruption’.

Yeah. I didn’t take that well.

But still, that had nothing to do with my poem. That was still to come.

When I got home I saw some comments from another poet that made it clear to me that she had gone home from the show very upset… angry, really. That bothered me so I asked what was wrong.

Apparently what was wrong was me.

She was deeply offended by the poem, seeing it as an attack on Halifax, which caught me off-guard since I had never seen it that way. The closest is the section that talks about it not being safe to walk in certain parts of town, but when I wrote that, I was condemning the military for telling us that we shouldn’t go there, rather than the city.

Regardless, when I tried to explain myself… she wasn’t receptive.

Flash forward to October. As we got closer to the festival I was getting more and more worried. I really wanted to perform the poem… it was important to me. Still, even though only one person saw it as an attack on Halifax (other responses to her reaction usually hung around the “did she even listen to the poem?” range), what if someone in Halifax felt that way, too? It wasn’t that I was afraid of controversy, but that wasn’t what the poem was about!

So, we went to the festival and I was still unsure. The first night I performed Why Art? and, well, the reception was not what I had hoped for. In fact, I think I got the lowest score of the night. Blah blah blah
Our whole team did a little worse than we had expected. I wasn’t very happy that night. I have a tendency to take these things a little too personally.

The next day we had a team meeting and we all agreed that since we could no longer make it into the finals, we should all do the poem we really wanted to do. Nathanael did a wonderful poem about his mother (B), which he knew would give him a time penalty. Free Will also did a piece that ran long and Mehdi did a freestyle.

I did Halifax.

It felt good.

It felt REALLY good.

The moment when I finished and the crowd jumped to their feet and I felt the rush of applause and support… just wow. It still is one of the three greatest moments I have ever felt while doing poetry.

After the show, one of the Victoria poets (Jane Bee) sought me out to give me a big hug and thank me for doing the piece.

I felt… yeah.

Then it hit. Will came and told me that someone was mad about my poem. It turned out that the person who was billetting me, and she took the poem badly. Later I found out that she had been warned about the poem by the first person who was offended, so she already had a preconceived notion… that wasn’t fair, in my opinion.

Anyway… long story short etc.

When I explained the whole poem to the second person, she eventually recanted and we made peace. The first person… while we also made peace, she still doesn’t see that the poem isn’t an attack on her hometown, but what can I do at this point.

I will say this… I ended up not going back to see the building where it happened. In the end, I didn’t see the point.

I later performed the piece at the… semi-finals, I think… when I became the alternate for the 2008 Ottawa team. Because of that, the poem is available on Live at Capital Slam 2008.

So… the poem…


I’ve been to Halifax before
Buzzcut and spitshine
Clad in the green of security
Keeping our nation safe
From the tyranny of pacifism

I’ve been to Halifax before
Riding in a military flight
That hip-hopped its way
Across this wide land
Worried more about efficiency
Than convenience

I’ve been to Halifax before
Where my interest in a busker
Playing Bob Dylan and Paul Simon tunes
Turned to questions about my
Stability and trustworthiness
Obviously my time would have been
Better spent downing copious
Quantities of the Pride of Nova Scotia
Like most of my so-called peers

I’ve been to Halifax before
Where I ignored military orders
To stay out of certain parts of town
Based on the colour of my skin
Welcome to the fifties,
Circa 1986

I’ve been to Halifax before
Where I had to reconcile
My growing unwillingness to fight
With my job as a transmitter
Of military orders
If pulling the trigger is wrong
And giving the order is wrong
How can transferring the order from
Mouth to hand be right?

I’ve been to Halifax before
Where I had so many things
Crawling under my skin
That I had to claw my way free
Leaving behind an empty husk
Like a molting snake that thinks
It is being born again, when really
It is just continuing a cycle

I’ve been to Halifax before
Staring into the abyss
Both literal and figurative
Looking at the ground
Thirty stories down
And wondering what it would be like
When I hit
I didn’t reach bottom there in Halifax
But I could sure see it from where
I was standing

I’ve been to Halifax before
How do you explain to a military lifer
That you shaved your head
Because you didn’t want to be a clone
And that he represents everything
You fear and abhor

I’ve been to Halifax before
And like a giant oil tanker
That takes miles of water
To change course, I called down
To the boiler room
“Prepare to come about!”

Because I am back in Halifax
Clad in me instead of green
And armed with tongue instead of gun

I’m back in Halifax surrounded by my new so-called peers
Cutting a swath through convention and intention
With dissension and invention

I’m back in Halifax
No longer afraid to stand and be counted
No matter what sort of
Security risk I appear

I’m back in Halifax
Because if listening to art is subversive
Then lets all line up for those photos
Because I think y’all would look
Pretty good on a post office wall

I’m back in Halifax
Because poetry gives me so much
That I’m bubbling over
And one pot can no longer contain me
I’ve seen and been from sea to sea
And if all there is is thee and me
Then let’s cast off anything that isn’t true
No more anger
No more self-doubt and recriminations

See only life
Hear only truth
Live only love

I’m back in Halifax
And I brought my words with me
I’m back in Halifax
And this time I’m standing proud
I’m back in Halifax
Now, who’s standing with me?