Tuesday, April 21, 2015

The powerful poetry of Shane Koyczan

CBC has introduced me, rather belatedly I fear, to Canadian poet Shane Koyczan.
Koyczan is a big, bearded, bruiser of a guy, but he's a jolly gentle giant. Having survived a messed-up childhood in northern Canada, involving a broken home and extensive bullying, he gave up his early ambitions of becoming a professional wrestler in favour of ... poetry. To be fair, he actually calls himself a "spoken word artist" rather than a poet, and his work is more in the way of spoken word lyrics for stand-up performance than traditional poetry. Less reliant on intricate wordplay and literary obfuscation than most poetry, Koyczan's work focuses more on powerful ideas and heartfelt, often intensely personal, emotion.
And he's quite a performer. Check out his performance on CBC's "q" radio program - try to ignore the advertising, and skip to about minute 13 for his reading of "For Many", a recent poem about self-image and self-worth.
There are a bunch more Koyczan videos available on YouTube, including his famous ode to the bullied kids of the world, "To This Day" (which he has also performed on a recent TED Talk); "Heaven, or Whatever", his memories of his grandfather; "Shoulders", about the environment and the power of activism; and, perhaps my own personal favourite, "The Crickets Have Arthritis", his incredibly moving tale of time spent in a hospital ward with a young cancer victim. There are many more Shane Koyczan videos on YouTube, some live on stage, some backed by music, some featuring cute (and often poignant) animations. All are worth your time.

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