Heather Conn Blogs

spoutin’ about by the sea

Shane shone at Vancouver’s Spoken World


Childhood bullying. A first kiss. Painful nicknames. B.C. slam poet Shane Koyczan shared life’s nasty jabs and quiet tenderness at last week’s sold-out Spoken World event in Vancouver, BC. The gentle wordster, best known for his rousing poem about the essence of Canadians at the opening ceremonies for the 2010 Winter Olympics, recited heartfelt poetry as if confessing intimacies in a cafe tete-a-tete, not facing an audience at Granville Island’s Performance Works.


Whether talking informally onstage to the 300 guests or reciting words from one of his youthful journals, Shane gave the bumps and beauty of his life a courageous tribute. This man peels back his soul and feels. Even without his untucked brown shirt, jeans, black cap and broad arm gestures, any listener could quickly see and hear that Shane was no slick, surface showman. He described a lover’s thighs and body softness with such fond detail and devotion that you knew he’d easily get an A for sensual attentiveness.


Shane still sounded hurt from a lover’s betrayal but crafted his angst into a clever, revenge-fuelled haiku called Herpes. Overall, he celebrated a pithy spirit, not self-pity. A highlight was his moving poem about sharing a hospital room for five days with a nine-year-old boy, a cancer patient. When he asked the boy if he was scared, the kid replied:  “Fuck, yeah” and then added: “But don’t tell my dad.” Shane’s  tears in reciting this poem didn’t seem like the appear-on-demand kind.


It was heartening that during the sports glitz of the Olympics and his recent global performance, Shane appeared without fanfare or any mention of his poetic feat at the opening ceremonies. Percussionist Sal Ferraras and his jazz band Poetic Licence added great spontaneous riffs and accents to Shane’s words and those of the evening’s three other performance artists.


Ivan E. Coyote, a Vancouver author and screenwriter, was another standout with her touching story about falling in love with a beautiful, smart woman ten years younger. Although smitten at first sight, Ivan initially feared their age gap was too vast and she didn’t want to be a “pussy crook.” It took five years before the two became a couple.


Ivan described a car ride filled with slam poets en route to Surrey for a public reading. When one encouraged her to read her love poem, Ivan was incredulous. She figured that conservative Surrey, whose school district has banned books about same-sex unions,was not the place for an articulate dyke with a tattooed bicep, who feels at home in jeans and a motorcycle-emblemed black T-shirt,  to profess her passion for a woman.


I found the work of the other two poets, Skeena Reece and California resident Ariana Waynes, less honed and rooted more in reactive emotion than skilful, thoughtful summary of experience . Skeena opened the evening, pulling her pony tail out and letting her hair and anger fly. Her throaty-voiced singing and gutteral cries were a compelling strength of raw power and direct-action motivation.


I enjoyed the spirited language of her poem Vulture Olympiad,  which used the refrain “Chomp, chomp” to condemn many aspects of the Vancouver Olympics exploitation. Although I agreed with her sentiments, her presentation seemed more like a cheerleading rant than an inspirational call to action.


Her line “I want to love Canadians but they make it hard for us” epitomized her rebuke of this nation’s poor treatment of  First Nations people and the city of Vancouver’s  disregard of  those on the Downtown Eastside. However, I’d still prefer to hear a poem that seeks solutions, evoking an alignment of shared values and social outcomes, than one that sustains race-based duality and divisions.


Ariana Waynes, the last poet of the evening, introduced herself as “bisexual polyamorous.” Enough said. She tossed off brash lines of impersonal coupling, flouting her diverse repertoire of sexual conquests. Seemingly preferring quantity to intimacy, she spoke flippantly of rape and asked: “Who hasn’t been abused?” She seemed exultant over, and empowered by, her many sweaty and sultry encounters, yet I couldn’t help wonder: “Where and how does love fit into this?” Her poetry seemed too skewed for shock value for my liking, her delivery too self-admiring to offer any hint of deep, universal connection.


Nevertheless, she drew out audience demographics that people rarely share at public events. She asked people to raise their hands to questions such as “Who has been in a bi-racial relationship” and “Who has been in a same-sex relationship?” A sprinkling of arms went up in both cases. For determining one’s company, this sure beat the usual age-and-income questions found on most surveys.


Hats off to Hal Wake, artistic director for the Vancouver International Writers Festival, for offering such a night of provocative poetry matched with captivating jazz. And many thanks to the guy at the ticket centre who, after telling me the show was sold out, kindly phoned me back about five minutes later and said that ten tickets were suddenly made available. What a thoughtful gesture.

February 21, 2010 at 9:31 pm Comments (3)

Colbert to Canadians: “I take it all back”

                                                                                                                       — Heather Conn photos

Stephen Colbert looked right at home sitting on a taxidermied moose, under a spray of fake white snow, waving a large Canadian flag. The crowd of about 6,000, gathered Feb. 18 at Vancouver’s Creekside Park to watch an outdoor taping of the Comedy Central show Colbert Report, made him do it. Sortof. A repeated chant of “Get on the moose” prompted the improv-loving comedian to give up metaphorically his bald-eagle mount, an image on the stage’s banner backdrop, and hop on the hoofed Canadian icon instead.

“If anything happens to me, it’ll be your fault,” he quipped to the audience packed around the stage, safely behind barriers.


Colbert, in Vancouver to provide offbeat Olympic coverage and support the U.S. men’s speed skaters, clearly loved that Canadians can take a joke. After having called them “syrup-sucking iceholes” on his show, he confessed: “I take it all back.” He joked about needing an English-English dictionary to understand Canadian terms like “riding” for a political district. His stage manager and crew wore white T-shirts with a red maple leaf emblem that read on the front: “Icehole Crew.” The back of the shirt said: “Colbert Nation eh!”


(Colbert was reportedly delighted to receive a case of Iceholes Celebration lager beer, inspired by his Canuck putdown and specially brewed byVancouver’s R & B Brewing Company. R & B co-owner Barry Benson says on the company website: ” In celebration of our icehole-ish behaviour we have decided to get even rather than get mad.”)


Before appearing, Colbert invited the Dutch oom-pah-pah group Klein pils onstage to warm up the fans with jovial, brass-band versions of songs from The Turtles’ Happy Together to Sweet Caroline, We Will Rock You, and Michael Rowed the Boat Ashore. He had discovered the boisterous musicians the night before while they performed rinkside at the Richmond Oval.


Colbert’s guests included Seth Wescott, two-time gold medal winner in snowboard cross, who picked up his latest gold this week in Olympic competition at Cypress Mountain. After Colbert asked to wear Westcott’s medal, he refused to give it back to the athlete, despite urgings to do so from the fans. Wescott, in turn, gave his host a team plaid jacket and autographed a specially made snowboard that bore Colbert’s image. (Colbert wore a navy Ralph Lauren cardigan and white 2010 track pants for the show, a nod to the designer of U.S. team uniforms in this year’s Winter Olympics.)


After his vocal support for the U.S. Olympic speed skaters and his team fundraising drive which brought in about $300,000 from fans, one would have expected Colbert to interview Shani Davis, who has appeared on his show in a satirical speed-skating challenge. But Davis was apparently offended by some of Colbert’s previous remarks and was not a guest. Colbert played a taped segment of his show onstage, which included a public apology to Davis. (That same day, Davis won a gold medal in the 1,000-metre men’s speed-skating in Richmond.)

                                                                                                         Ryan St. Onge

Other Olympic guests included U.S. freestyle aerialists Ryan St. Onge and Jeret “Speedy” Peterson. While Colbert teased St. Onge, who appeared shy in a conservative shirt and tie, about his name, Peterson appeared to hold his own with Colbert. When asked about getting kicked out of the  2006 Olympics in Turin, Italy for a drunken altercation, Peterson admitted his actions and told his host: “Sorry to steal your thunder.”

                                                                      Jeret Peterson

As if for required Canadian content, Colbert interviewed the Honourable Ujjal Dosanjh, Liberal Member of Parliament for Vancouver South. He teasingly asked Dosanjh what caste he was from and repeatedly mentioned India’s caste system. Dosanjh said that he didn’t believe in the caste system and stressed the equality of all. Yet, when Colbert continued trying to pin down the ultra-serious federal politician on this subject, Dosanjh appeared taken aback and possibly offended. I wondered if he even knew that such stances are part of Colbert’s shtick and on-camera persona.  


This show was the last of a two-day taping for Colbert at the park. Fans had waited since dawn for the 10:15 start time. I arrived at 7:45 a.m., joining a long line of people waiting patiently in front of Science World. A friendly female parks ranger warned us that the park had four inches of mud in places and was very slippery. She urged people not to run on the grass to avoid injury.  


Yet, once the orderly queues received permission to move towards the stage,
 hundreds started running up the hill and charging through the mud. In such a free-for-all, someone who had arrived five minutes earlier could easily have gotten a much better viewing spot than someone who camped out overnight in wait. I ended up to the right of the stage close to the front.


Following these fun shoots, Colbert toured a variety of Olympic pavilions in Vancouver, doing his usual campy and impromptu repartee, besides serving as an on-air NBC commentator and the U.S. speed-skating team’s assistant sports psychologist.


Stephen Colbert will certainly never make the podium as an Olympic gold medalist, as portrayed on this banner made by a fan, but he has made phenomenal strides in bringing Canadian and U.S. psyches and spirits together through laughter. Maybe he deserves to keep Seth Westcott’s medal after all.


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February 21, 2010 at 2:03 pm Comments (11)