…“Canada is the ‘what’ in ‘what’s new’/We are the true North strong and free/ And what’s more/ We didn’t just say it…We made it be…”
Shane Koyczan exploded on to a world stage before 3.8 billion viewers when his poem, We Are More, brought audiences to their feet during the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics’ opening ceremonies. His poem, laying raw the spirit of a nation, caught the public imagination, and fired Canadian pride.
“He is a phenomenal artist,” said Sandra Whitworth of the St. Lawrence Acoustic Stage. “He has the audience moving from laughter to tears in a few words. His pieces are very emotional and incredibly moving.”
Shane Koyczan will be in Morrisburg, at the Morrisburg Meeting Centre, on Saturday, September 14, at 7 p.m., to open the St. Lawrence Acoustic Stage 2013-14 season.
I had the opportunity to talk to Shane about his poetry and his upcoming show in Morrisburg. At the outset, I asked Shane about his inspiration for We Are More.
He had originally hesitated about participating with the poem, which had been commissioned by the Canadian Tourism Commission, but then he recalled what his grandmother once told him. “Once you say no to an opportunity, it’s gone, and so are all the opportunities that could have come with it.”
“I’d been away travelling for a long time,” Koyczan said. “I grew a bit reflective about Canada on the road. There are political aspects of this country I don’t feel so great about, sure, but I think deep down most Canadians take pride in this nation. The Olympics were kind of Canada’s house party, sort of ‘come on in and turn up the music!’”
Has life changed for him since 2010?
“Life really hasn’t changed for me. This was not a sudden earth-shaking event. But I think what the experience did do, was it shone a light on the spoken word, gave people a reference point.”
Shining a light on life, even its harsher aspects, is very much part of Shane Koyczan’s poetic philosophy. Words are a passion, an outlet, a force in his life. “I love language.”
Born in Yellowknife, moving to Penticton, British Columbia, he grew up facing the brutality and soul ache of bullying.
“I was not a social creature. Words became for me a way of dealing with people. Paper and ink don’t judge me. If you grow up being told that nothing you do or say is good or right, this affects you. A lot of times, you can be consumed by your feelings. They can be like a storm cloud following you around. Writing was a way to let me let go of what was weighing me down.”
“…and if you don’t see anything beautiful about yourself/get a better mirror/ look a little closer/stare a little longer…”
Shane was featured at TED Talks, a forum that deals with anti-bullying. His video containing the piece, To This Day, literally went viral, its impact strongly praised.
“I don’t really know the appeal of poetry,” Koyczan said. “I can’t explain it. But I believe that it’s an outlet for many, that poetry connects people. Poetry, I think, reminds people that it is okay to be emotional. Pet a puppy, or just cry if you want to.”
Clearly, his poetry has touched, and continues to touch, an extraordinary range of people.
“I am actually always really surprized at the age range at my shows. Kids will bring their grandparents.”
His Morrisburg show September 14?
“It will be a Shane Koyczan performance,” he laughed. “Lots of variation, an emotional roller coaster of highs and lows, emotional places, happy places,” despite some occasional rough language.
He has headlined in venues as large as the Vogue Theatre (1,100 seats) but, “I’m a small town kid, looking forward to coming to a small town to perform. Backstage, I disconnect with myself. I go back in time to remember why I wrote a poem, the moments, the feelings, so I can connect with an audience.”
Is poetry the centre of his life?
“I like to laugh, love film, reading and exploring water. I can’t restrict my interests and passions to just poetry. I believe that is too limiting. Don’t make your life around just one thing…you could end up hating the very thing you love.”
Opening for Shane Koyczan, with two songs, will be Tone Cluster, an exciting, talented Ottawa-based choir. “They recently did an entire show on bullying and acceptance and they seemed the perfect way to get things started for this show,” said Whitworth.
Tickets for the dynamic and passionate spoken virtuoso, Shane Koyczan, appearing for one evening only at the Morrisburg Meeting Centre September 7, 7 p.m., are available by contacting www.st-lawrencestage.com.