A collage of digital art pieces depicting various people in their rooms doing activities Detail from National Poetry Month 2022 Poster, designed by Megan Fildes

Up Close and Intimate

March 31, 2022

This April is National Poetry Month

By Glodeane Brown

Did you know that April is National Poetry Month (NPM)…. and the theme this year is intimacy? Every April, since 1998, The League of Canadian Poets has been encouraging people to learn about and celebrate poets and poetry. This April, join open mic nights, book launches, read a genre you’ve never read before, or maybe even try your hand at poetry.

Poetry can be an intimidating art form and often a solitary practice. Lesley Fletcher, Executive Director of The League of Canadian Poets, explains that the organization was started by a group of poets as a way to build community and support each other. Over time, it grew into a non-profit and membership organization offering professional development opportunities and access to funding programs.

Ontario Culture Days spoke with three Ontario-based poets about what intimacy means to them, their plans for National Poetry Month, and the future of poetry in Ontario.

Andrea Thompson. Photo by BIA Photography

Andrea Thompson

Andrea Thompson has been publishing and performing her work for over 25 years. In 2019 her poetry album, Soulorations helped earn her the League of Canadian Poets’ Sheri-D Wilson Golden Beret Award. Thompson’s work is featured in the anthology, Best Canadian Poetry: 2020, and she is the recipient of the 2021 Leon E. & Ann M. Pavlick Poetry Prize. Her poetry collection, A Selected History of Soul Speak was published in 2021. Thompson is a League member and worked for the organization for six years. For her, joining the League as an emerging artist and becoming a part of the community was a self declaration that she was a professional writer. League gatherings are opportunities to network and strengthen understanding of each other and appreciation of the practice. She says that the League also does important advocacy work on behalf of poets.

Thompson says having a theme allows the League to have a multifaceted way to approach National Poetry Month. She says that in some ways intimacy is something we’ve lost over the past couple of years with COVID, but in a strange way more intimacy has been fostered as we’ve become aware of our need for each other and our need to connect to community. As a performing poet, she has found Zoom performances to be more intimate for her. On stage there is a more theatrical approach and that is reflected in the delivery. In front of the computer, even though the audience is bigger it’s like you’re talking to one person so it’s a more intimate kind of performance.

Due to spoken word going from a marginalized art form to a popular, mainstream art form, Thompson thinks that the future of poetry in Ontario will continue to have a focus on oral presentation. She sees the colonial, Eurocentric approach to literature starting to fall away. With the Internet and social media, regionalism is being replaced by communities becoming bigger and national cross pollination is happening quickly.

She’s currently promoting her first collection in 20 years and is in the finishing phases of a gospel spoken word album. She has a handful of events lined up for NPM including an April 6th performance hosted by George Elliott Clarke called 5 Poets Breaking Into Song. Clarke commissioned five women poets to have their poems turned into songs by musicians. On April 16th she’ll be leading a virtual workshop for Living Hyphen that will explore the art of spoken word poetry as a vehicle for creative expression and self-empowerment.

Sanna Wani. Photo credit: Hamzah Amin.

Sanna Wani

Sanna Wani is a Kashmiri settler living near the Missinnihe river (Eastern Ojibwa: trusting waters), on land stewarded since time immemorial by the Mississauga of the New Credit, the Anishnaabeg, the Chippewa, the Wendat, and the Haudnosaunee among many other diverse First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples. Wani’s debut poetry collection My Grief, the Sun will be available April 5th. The earliest poem in the collection was written in 2017 or 2018 but the bulk of the book was written between 2019 and 2021. The poems in the collection are sharply political, frequently magical, and often intimate.

For her intimacy has always been about the ways we understand each other, whether those are physical, emotional, through the spoken word or written word. Intimacy is love, a form of understanding.

Wani grew up in Ontario and says she’s really attached to where she’s from. The shape of the place, the shape of the land and the Credit River have really influenced her work. When asked about what she thinks the future of poetry in Ontario looks like she says that there are a lot of different small poetry communities in Ontario, and she gets excited by the possibility of allowing those pockets to grow legs and take off. She wonders what could happen if there was an Ontario wide poetry festival and says maybe that is a dream for the future.

Wani is doing an online event on April 24 with a collective called New Third World Reading Series. May is Asian Heritage Month and she’ll be part of a May 10th event with Another Story Bookshop featuring South Asian poets and writers. The event will be held at Wychwood Barns.

Dwayne Morgan. Photo credit: Dwayne Morgan

Dwayne Morgan

Dwayne Morgan is League member and a multi award winning poet, speaker, and social entrepreneur. He began his career as a spoken word artist in 1993. He is a two-time Canadian National Poetry Slam Champion. In 1994, he founded Up From The Roots entertainment, to promote the positive artistic contributions of African Canadian and urban influenced artists. In 2019, he founded and co-produced the inaugural Toronto Spoken Soul Festival. Morgan is the 2018 winner of the Sheri-D Wilson Golden Beret Award for Career Achievement in the Spoken Word.

Morgan says that benefits of being a League member include funding opportunities and finding out what is happening in the community through the newsletter. He says that sometimes you can get so busy in your practice you miss out on what’s going on in other places and the newsletter is a concise way to access that information.

Intimacy is always present in Morgan’s work. His work takes a glimpse into both his creativity and how he sees the world but that is tailored through the lens of being a Black man in this reality, and how that forces him to see and experience certain things. For him, intimacy means a vulnerable connection. A big part of what the spoken word community does regularly is form vulnerable, immediate connections with audiences. The artists are revealing parts of themselves that oftentimes they’d rather keep to themselves, but they share with the hope that they will free someone else.

About the future of poetry in Ontario, he says that the future is promising. Many opportunities exist today that were not available when he started his career. He’s a mentor to many young artists and for some of them, poetry is their full-time job. It’s great for him to be able to pass on what he knows and show them how to navigate situations and see that they can do this. One of his mentees is Randell Adjei, Ontario’s first Poet Laureate. Having Randell in that position allows other young people to imagine what they might be able to do and that their voice matters, that you can come from places where you don’t have a lot and end up where you never even thought that your voice would take you.

He’s currently working on writing for an upcoming poetry and music project. He doesn’t have any special events planned for April besides The Roots Lounge event he’s been holding on the third Sunday of every month since 1999. Morgan likes showing people what poetry can be and that poetry is all over the place. When people start to realize that it makes it easier for them to imagine a life with this art form.

Follow The League of Canadian Poets to keep track of the events happening in April.