Penticton spoken word artist Shane Koyczan is approaching 2019 with some light trepidation. The year 2018 was a weird one to be sure, full of uncertainty and bleak statistics. School shootings in the United States continued to rise, the Syrian Civil War claimed more innocent lives, and President Donald Trump announced his plans to pull the U.S. out of the Iranian Nuclear Deal. At times, it felt like the sky was being ripped apart only for the brief welcome of a black hole that would eventually engulf us all in oblivion.
“I think maybe everybody lives in a generation when they think that theirs is the generation where the world is going to end. It felt pretty grim,” Koyczan says with a sigh. “Living in B.C., we had all of these forest fires so we couldn’t really go outside the entire summer. So we were under duress ‘cause of all of the smoke. Coupled with the only window that we could look into was our neighbour’s yard down in the States with all the madness going on there. The world was just coming down and I thought ‘This was it.’”
Koyczan also lost his grandmother, a woman who was a pillar of immortal support while he found his way in life and as a poet.
“She raised me, and not in the sense that she took care of me on weekends,” he says. “She took care of me everyday because my mom and dad weren’t. It’s what I’ve been writing about. It’s hard to lose somebody that was able to make you laugh. When you live with depression, laughing is not a thing that’s easy to come by. And when you lose that person that was so good at being able to find that part of you, it makes life difficult.”
But even in all that darkness, Koyczan finds a light, a light in the form of poetry and telling the story of his grandmother.
“This show will deal a lot with grieving and trying to find the light and humour in that,” he says. “There’s so many awkward things that happen when somebody you love passes. There are the people who keep calling you and have no idea what to say—so there’s this awkwardness all around. We’ve all experienced that.”
Since he was a kid, Koyczan has been an avid journaler—it’s actually how he found poetry. The act of writing down his thoughts seemed the most direct approach to explain or discover his feelings towards certain outcomes of his life.
“People think that inspiration comes from inside you, but inspiration is an outside force,” Koyczan says. “Things happen and that’s what inspires you. I get inspired by other artists constantly … when I go out into the world and participate in life. There’s no shortage of inspiration in the world, but you have to be active.”
The reason that Koyczan’s poetry never seems stale is due to the fact that it’s always evolving. He has powerful poems about heavy topics like race relations, bullying, and death, and has light hearted ones about learning how to smile.
“When something happens to me, I can’t wait to write about it. It’s something that journaling gets you in the habit of. It can be very basic stuff like getting a haircut. It’s not always the deep crevices of humanity,” he laughs.
But Koyczan does use his voice and platform to call out situations he feels are wrong. To him, it’s a moral obligation, being an artist that people will in fact listen to.
“I’m very open to the idea that ‘Ah fuck, I could be wrong.’ I don’t have all the answers,” he says. “It takes a lot of bravery I think to speak out. It’s more comfortable to go under the radar with much of life’s little circumstances. But that’s not where we are right now. Your first weapon is your voice and it’s your most important weapon.”
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