Koyczan is, quite frankly, a genius. Perhaps his poem about being Canadian, the one that he recited at the opening ceremonies, made you stand and cheer, as it did to me. However the complexity of his poetry runs far deeper than all that, and his words have the power to not only make you cheer but think, and cry.
I like to believe I am an evocative writer. I have been told I have the ability to make people laugh, and smile, and cry on occasion, too (although crying is never my goal, but if I cry when I write it usually means someone will cry when they read it). One of my favourite quotes on writing is this one:
Writing is easy. You just open a vein and bleed.
There is a lot of truth in that quote as if you write in a personal style, as I so often do, then you find yourself bleeding emotion all over the pages. At times I wonder if I should pull back, reveal less, insulate more - and yet I never do because I don't really know how to do it. My writing is me, and it is emotional. But while I like to think I am an evocative writer I am a pure amateur compared to Koyczan.
Koyczan spins words like plates, deftly tossing them into the air, dropping them at will to great effect, to hear them smash on the ground and see their impact. His timing is impeccable when delivering those words, and his voice is authentic, sincere, genuine - real. He has a band that backs him, The Short Story Long, and of course their music provides the emotional backdrop each recitation requires to evoke those feelings - but even without the music the words would provoke emotion.
Words have power. In the last two years I have come to recognize this in a way I simply didn't acknowledge before. Words can provoke sadness, anger, laughter, and even love. Words connect us in such deep and profound ways, and words can disconnect us, too, when used as weapons.
Last night just before I saw Koyczan I attended the launch of the latest issue of NorthWord magazine, our own journal of literary talent in this community. The organizers asked me to read one of my works at the launch, and so I read the poem I had submitted for that issue (and been so startled to see it selected for publication, because it is the first poem I have written in decades, and I am sincerely dubious about my skill as a poet). It is not a skilled poem, it does not rhyme and it is not funny. It is, however, me. It is my voice, and it is real, and authentic, and genuine. It pales in comparison to the works of Koyczan, certainly, and I suspect some in the audience thought it a bit vapid (while reading I saw looks exchanged between two audience members and all I could wonder is if they have ever bled onto a page and then held it up for all to see, their soul on display for the world - because that is what I do in this blog almost every single day, and I have come to realize it takes some courage, too). But whatever others thought of it the reality is that this poem is me. Just as this blog is me, my voice. There are many like it, but this one is mine, and I will continue to use it until one day my voice fails me and I can no longer write due to death or disability.
While I listened to Koyczan, often laughing and occasionally with tears in my eyes, I kept thinking about how we ALL have voice. Some of us choose to use it, and some do not. Some choose to never let their voice be known, and I think that is a shame, because the more voices heard the more harmony we can find. One of the running themes in Koyczan's works is the encouragement to live, to take chances, to realize that our time on this planet is but "visiting hours" and that we need to make every one of those hours count. You see Koyczan isn't just a poet - he's an inspiration to truly live, and that has been a running theme in my life, too, ever since my mother died four years ago and I realized how many of us just exist but don't live. Ever since her death I have embraced truly living, taking chances and realizing that while on occasion I will lose some days I will win, too. And that is what life is about, really - not winning or losing all the time but taking the chances you are given to see which one it will be.
This is my voice, Fort McMurray. There are many like it, but this one is mine. Thank you for coming here on occasion to read it, to hear what I have to say, and to watch as I open a vein and bleed words onto this page. Whether you love it or hate it I appreciate you giving me the chance to use my voice, and taking your time to listen to it. I would suggest that you take the time to listen to Shane Koyczan's voice, too, because I am humbled and amazed by his talent - and inspired. Perhaps he will have the same effect on you, make you want to share your voice, too - or maybe he will just inspire you to truly live. Either way I think it is worth taking the chance to find out, don't you?
My sincere thanks to
Events Wood Buffalo
for bringing Shane Koyczan to Fort McMurray
for winterPLAY 2013
and to NorthWord Magazine
for being the literary heart of our community.