International Festival Of Authors ~ Fall 2011

OBT Black History Series: Motion

 
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As part of the Black History Author Highlight Series, Open Book: Toronto sits down to speak with renown Canadian poet, educator and hip hop artist Motion.

OBT:

When did you first discover the power of words? Did you write as a child?

Motion:

Probably before I could actually write it. I was always singing, talking, always had songs in my head, tape them on a recorder. We has a lot of records, and mashed up between all the music – reggae, calypso, dub, soul, funk, sound/tracks - was Last Poets, Louise Bennett, Richard Pryor, Linton Kwesi, Malcolm X. Isaac Hayes use to start his songs with these long soliloquies. My uncle was a poet. This is what I was hearing while I was growing. I started writing when I was probably around seven. I had a book, write about what I did today, stuff like that. But then it started growing into other things – writing songs, lyrics, rhymes and then poetry.

OBT:

What initially prompted you to write 40 Dayz?

Motion:

The seed for 40 Dayz grew when I was taking a poetry workshop, and Dionne Brand was teaching it. My challenge – to stretch my style, try new forms and write a body of work on a central theme. I wanted to write a collection where each piece connected, a journey. 40 Dayz represents elements of that journey – artistically, personally, spiritually, historically, the mountains and floods, rituals and rebirths.

OBT:

You have opened for/shared stages with such renowned artists as Mos Def, Wyclef Jean, Talib Kweli and Jill Scott. How have these experiences inspired your work?

Motion:

It’s inspiring to share the stage with respected artists, to witness other artists at work and be a part of creating that energy. It’s confirmation to keep pushing to the next level, and affirming how much the North brings to the table.

OBT:

It also seems that music factors deeply into your work, often in what are magical ways. Do you see poetry as a kind of musical language?

Motion:

I came up with DJ’s, dancers, rappers, musicians. Music has surrounded and run through me, it’s a passion. Poetry to me is one of the foundation elements. Its that space where word and music merge. It’s visual and oral, read, heard. It’s rhythm, beat, pitch, volumes, silence. And at the same time, it’s literature, lyrical, comical, dramatic, epic. It’s emceeing, storytelling, spoken word. It’s loud and quiet. Music and poetry, word/sound, share an intertwined evolution.

OBT:

What makes a poem speak through the page?

Motion:

Voice brings a next level of expression to a poem, the volume, pitch, speed, tone, silence. The way a poem is written, styled on a page, does this too. It can be how the words are placed on the page, where the line breaks, how we decide to mis/spell a word. Its expressing the rhythm, the flow, the pause, and stretching the meaning/s, visually. It effects how a poem is read, heard and understood.

OBT:

You provide powerful spoken word workshops for youth. What goes into the process of organizing workshops? What do you think a strong workshop session is composed of?

Motion:

I love working with new talent. Community and arts organizations in the city are promoting workshops incorporating spoken word, poetry, hip hop: ArtStarts, Blockheadz, Urban Arts, A.M.Y. Project, Lost Lyrics, bcurrent, Women With Wordz and Literature for Life. It’s a way to engage youth, introduce them to the art form, empower voices, tell stories, deal with what’s going on personally and communally. In schools, the poetry unit has been one of the hardest to teach, so some teachers are opening up to spoken word and lyricism to engage students and show the poetic word is relevant, accessible and real. It’s a valuable space for developing emerging writers and artists, and building a new generation of writers.

The main thing about workshops is providing a space to develop new talent and work from participants' previous exposure and knowledge of the art form. It’s about finding a connection, and jumping off from there, in order to explore the poetry in everyday spaces, real life situations, personal emotions. It’s also about creating a safe space to share, experiment and risk. After the brainstorms, free-writes, finding memory, exploring the senses and s/language, painting pictures with words, exploring styles, flow and stories, the goal is to inspire new insights, new voices and the next level of creation.

OBT:

Who are your favourite writers?

Motion:

If I had to start a list, it would begin with the writers that made me fall in love with reading in the first place. Maya Angelou, Rosa Guy, James Baldwin, Richard Wright, Langston Hughes. My mom intro’d me to the classics – Things Fall Apart, Miguel Street, If Beale Street Could Talk. I discovered Sonia Sanchez, Edwidge Danticat... and among that foundation, there’s emcees, songwriters, playwrights, and numerous Northside poets and novelists, like Althea Prince, d’bi.young, George Elliott Clarke and JWyze.

OBT:

In honour of this special Black History interview series for Open Book, how do you see the role of spoken word/oral traditions within the larger project of recognizing, preserving and promoting the contributions of Black peoples and their collective histories, and what do these histories have to do with the future of poetic craft?

Motion:

In many ways, our oral/aural culture has been a mode of survival for us. When original texts where lost, kidnapped, destroyed, when our languages became contraband, when the audacity to read or write could be punishable by death, our voices, chants, songs, proverbs, stories, jokes, codes, remained a crucial communication. It still is.

The movement is documenting oral culture – rap anthologies, spoken word collections, scholars writing on toasts and dub. There is digital dissemination, global collaboration, audio/visual poetry, the perpetual recording of everything. And that raw mouth to ear experience continues – performance spaces where we share philosophies, ciphers where skills are challenged, open mics to try new work and discover the next new voices, slams where the poet and audience become a intertwined entity. The poetic innovation will continue to build upon that foundation.

OBT:

Do you have any advice for young or emerging writers trying to get their work heard?

Motion:

Write, perform as much as possible, discover what makes your voice, story, style unique. Experiment: try new things. Study the art of this - go to open mics, watch poetry online, listen, read poetry, old and brand new. Also, be independent; show your hustle, blog your work, record your aural pieces, make film shorts on your camera, promote a poetry jam or underground show in the spaces within your own community and beyond it. Create a chapbook, share it, sell it. Join a theatre workshop, poetry program, youth media collective, urban arts organization; this opens up opportunities to work with professional artists and mentors and develop your work. Builds your network. Do whatever you can to be heard, read, seen and felt, and more opportunities will come to you. And read, read, read. Know we are all blessed with a gift/s; take the time to know yours.

OBT:

Are you currently at work with any new projects? Where can we go to hear or find your work?

Motion:

I’m writing my new book. I’m developing dramatic/poetic work for theatre. My play “Aneemah’s Spot” will be published by Playwright’s Canada Press this spring in the Obsidian Collection. And I’m building my new show and mixing my live album. It’s been a time of cre/ation. Soon come – dissemination. Log On: motionlive.com


Motion was born as Wendy Braithwaite in Toronto to Antiguan and Barbadian parents. She adopted the name "Motion" because it depicted the rate at which she began showing her talent. Heavily influenced by the reggae, calypso and soul music of her childhood, Motion's creativity extends beyond writing to the realm of spoken word and hip hop. Motion's career accolades include a MuchMusic nomination for Best Rap Video Award, and the UMAC Award for Best Hip Hop Radio Show. 40 Dayz is her latest collection.

To read more about 40 Dayz, please visit the Canadian Scholars' Press Inc. website by clicking here.

Buy this book at your local independent bookstore or online at Chapters/Indigo or Amazon.

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