by Laura Fraser
Motion doesn’t read her poetry aloud — she performs it.
The spoken word poet used song and rhythm to give her words power at the Ryerson Live Poets’ Society last week.
Motion, whose real name is Wendy Brathwaite, begins with Rhyme on my Mind. The piece explains how spoken poetry reaches a mass audience, as it’s not bound to the page.
“The spoken word is the word that is living on street corners, or in a show, or on a stage, anywhere that you can find it, theatre, comedy or a whole lot more,” chants Brathwaite in her opening poem.
Brathwaite engages the audience throughout her performance, the interactivity adding “a dual energy” to the room. The rising energy creates a circle of poets who rhyme back and forth, as Brathwaite gets the audience to chant “word with attitude” during intervals of the performance. “You have the word, then you give the sound to the word and that becomes power. That’s the perfect trilogy.”
Brathwaite’s poems evoke a more powerful emotion than written poetry, says Jonathan Laba, a third-year arts and contemporary studies student. “We actually had a three-hour discussion about one of Percy Shelley’s poems this afternoon. It was nowhere near as impactful as (this) performance.”
To Ryerson English professor Kate Eichhorn, the performance had elements of both page poetry and traditional spoken word.
“What’s happened in the Toronto poetry scene in the last decade is there is this distinction between page poets and stage poets,” she says. “Increasingly we have people like Motion who mediate between two mediums.”
Although she didn’t begin publicly performing until her early teens, Brathwaite grew up loving hip-hop, writing, and the stage. “As a kid…I’d be in the basement, and then put on some Christmas lights, put on some Michael Jackson. That was a Sunday afternoon for me.”
Being born and raised in Toronto exposed her to a variety of performance artists. A number of her poems, such as Dear Marky and Life Sentence, are about the challenges facing youth.
By using the power of spoken word performance art, Brathwaite hopes to bring life to these topics. “Some of my brethren are lying in dust… That had a big influence on me, because I’m still here. I have to be a voice for their dreams, too.”
Brathwaite’s career includes a variety of art forms. She has worked as a hip-hop artist, and helped found the hip-hop radio show Masterplan while studying English and African studies at the University of Toronto.
Now, she volunteers at Art Starts, a community organization where she teaches creative writing and spoken-word workshops.
“I see it as educating through the arts,” Brathwaite said. “I’m taking hip-hop into a classroom or working with upcoming artists or writers to develop their talent.”
Nadiya Shaw, one of the Live Poets’ Society co-ordinators, hopes that poets such as Brathwaite will draw out a younger crowd.
“She had something that redefined a poet. She’s not the image of the beret-wearing poet reading out of a book. I felt she had an edge we could use at Ryerson.”
Shaw, with fellow co-ordinator Amanda Shankland, has booked four other poets for the series thus far.
They hope that by inviting distinctive poets such as Brathwaite, they will have a series as diverse as the Ryerson student body.