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Shane Koyczan: keeping life honest.

"I've been told that people in the army do more by 7:00 a.m. than I do in an entire day," Shane Koyczan writes. "But if I wake at 6:59 a.m. and turn to you to trace the outline of your lips with mine I will have done enough and killed no one in the process." It is this humour and frankness that has attracted huge audiences to hear Shane's slam poetry and made his first book, Visiting Hours, one of the most successful Canadian poetry books in recent history.


The first time Shane wrote down words with the intention of performing them, they were meant to be protection against high-school bullies. "I was painfully shy," he explains. "I realize now that 'How are you doing today?' is a pretty benign question. But at the time, a question like that was so huge to me. So, I would go home and write these little speeches."

The angst-filled teenager that was once targeted by bullies in a Yellowknife high school is still preparing his little speeches. But now he delivers them all over North America, both as a solo artist and with his musical group, Tons of Fun University (TOFU).

Having grown up in Yellowknife and Penticton, Shane embodies the small-town artist's dream. After studying creative writing at Okanagan University College, he moved to the big city to seek out a writing scene and stumbled across his calling. "I discovered poetry slams on a lamppost in Vancouver," he remembers. "I saw a sign and decided to try it out. I won my first competition and have just kept on winning."

Just six years since being named the first non-American winner of the highly coveted individual title at the National Poetry Slam, Shane is in Toronto to be honoured at the Canadian Festival of Spoken Word. Winner of the CBC's National Poetry Face-Off, he recently received the nod for best poetry reading at the Edinburgh Book Festival, and both critics and readers have received Visiting Hours warmly.

"If I were a cow en route to the slaughterhouse," Shane writes, "I would try to kiss you one last time before my lips were mulched for wieners." It is not only Shane's wit that draws audiences; his performances are also capable of making his listeners cry. His rare performance of the poem "Move Pen Move" in a crowded Vancouver cafe on Mother's Day, 2005 was no exception. He launched into the poem without letting his giggling audience recover from his last poem. Within seconds the packed room was silent, hanging on each word as he described trying to force his pen to move in an effort to write a poem for his dying mother.

"The point of art is to keep life honest," Shane says. Quoting Oscar Wilde, he says that, "life imitates art far more than art imitates life" and argues that poets must use their art to critique politics and culture. "Art will always have that position where it needs to question."

"Should we be in Afghanistan?" he asks as an example, "I can't figure out why we are there. I am waiting for someone to explain it to me, anyone." Shane's voice rises slightly as he defends his use of poetry to promote his anti-war politics. "I'm going to say what I think in a way that might engage you and get you to listen to my point of view. Maybe that will inspire you to do something."

To get the latest on Shane Koyczan, visit his website at www.

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Author:Millar, Erin
Publication:Canadian Dimension
Article Type:Interview
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Jan 1, 2007
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