By Laura Fraser
The African drumbeats echo through the room as Michael St.George blends rhythm, music and language into one medium.
“We exist in rhythm,” says St. George.”Our hearts beat in rhythm and it’s a natural part of our existence.”
St.George performed for the Ryerson Live Poets Society last Tuesday, sharing with students his unique brand of poetry .
Dubbing is a style of poetry that carries a political message.St.George uses drums, reggae music and his own lilting Jamaican voice to promote his messages of activism and change. Growing up in Jamaica played an important role in his development as a poet.”I was exposed to rhythm and music at an early age,” he said, “and I saw how they can be used for motivation.”
He began writing in high school, but didn’t experiment with dub poetry until 1983.”I’m here to spread a message for total liberty, for balance, for the conviction in humanity’s ability to change,” he said.
St.George’s poetry deals with topics ranging from the mistreatment of the elderly to globalization.His poem “The Anti-Ageist Rage” examines how society has turned its back on the elderly; a generation he feels has much to offer.
“People need to stop focusing on their idea of themselves; true independence is about interdependence,” he said.”It’s about connecting through relationships and connecting through generations.”
Jerry Lee, a second-year Early Childhood Education student, was moved by the poem “Grandma Ideology.”
Partway through the poem, Lee stood, overcome with emotion. “It just so happens that this is the two-year anniversary of my grandmother’s death and that poem just really spoke to me,” he said.”
After hearing that [poem], I just want to go home and be able to give her a call.” Audience participation is central to St.George’s performance. “Art is a communal experience,” he said.”I exist with you in this time. How can I stand here and pretend that my audience doesn’t exist?” The spectators clap in time with St.George’s drumbeats, providing the rhythm for his poetry.
As the tempo increases so does the energy in the room. The audience begins chanting “ting, ting, ting” with St.George. There is a frenzy of action as the poem climaxes and swiftly ends. St.George brings his performance around the world, traveling throughout Canada, the United States, the Caribbean, and Europe.
Next week he will participate in a dubbing festival in Wales. St. George has many stories about his travels.In Calgary, he saw an old man step out of his wheelchair and attempt to dance to the rhythm of the poetry.
St.George still has a necklace given to him by the man.
“It’s really simple, but he made it himself. He moulded it, and fired it, and then he gave it to me.” Tuesday’s performance was equally inspiring to Jerry Lee. “He’s helped me think about straying away from rhyme in my writing,” he said.
“Seeing him read and present in that way brought me to a whole new realm of poetry.”