“I first thought poetry was like the Disney Aristocats movie, the spotlight and the jazz. I literally thought poetry was this bullshit thing where you did whatever you want. That was fun but not my thing,” begins Andrew Warner, a slam poet who works with Vancouver Poetry and Button Poetry. However, the performing arts have always been a part of Andrew’s life, from early moments when he was an actor to all the uncoiling of his career and life as a writer and poet.
Photo Credit: Andrew Warner
Andrew had never been as afraid of audiences because of his experience in theatre. However, everything changed when he started to perform as a slam poet. In acting, he played different characters, but in slam poetry, he had to learn how to play and be his truest self. His first poem on YouTube, for instance, was a confusing experience. At first, he had no problems with sharing it, but later on, he began to realize the level of intimacy his poetry contained, and how poetry slam had a lot to do with being able to be vulnerable. Also, the fact that he had no idea what kind of response he would have began to spark nervousness in him.
When he began his career, he said it was quite common to find himself “wanting other people’s voices” instead of his own. But when he actually went to the heart of it and began to figure out what his own voice sounded like, he realized the deepness of exposing personal thoughts and ideas. It was only then that he began learning how to identify and cherish those poems where he and other people accomplished the brutal level of honesty that slam poetry requires. “And it’s those poems that you have the privilege of listening on at the poetry slams that change me and help me realize like ‘oh my god, I might be gay’ or like ‘Oh my god, I might have OCD,’” Andrew admits.
Being able to connect with slam poetry has helped Andrew learn more about himself and have the courage of owning his own truth. Andrew says that before going to poetry slams, he thought he was straight. It wasn’t until he saw queer people sharing their stories while actually living what they said that he started to resonate with their poetry. Going to poetry slams and frequently seeing people who were gay made him “partly afraid of them and partially afraid of [himself]” because he was still unsure and scared of expressing his own voice.
To him, it was only after he started to attend poetry slams often and see these people who were so true to themselves that he came out and felt like he had a deeper realization on what and how his voice was. Andrew says that it was then that he started to receive the “most honest reactions from other people.” On the following moments, he began to realize that it was most gratifying when he wrote for communities of people that he could see himself in, such as the queer and neurodivergent communities. Only then did the connection between poet and spectator became even more real as he wrote from a unique and personal perspective on something so many of the people that saw his videos experienced.
After Andrew started genuinely putting himself out there with his poetry, he began to notice that there was certain magic with live-performance, n unpredictability that gave it a fun touch and made each performance different. He says that in live-shows he loves to improvise, and he has become more relaxed because “whatever happens, happens.”Andrew has also noticed that the most interesting poetry is the one that the audience doesn’t expect and when they have got no choice but to actually “figure out by themselves” what the poet meant by certain couplet or haiku.
Poetry is meant to be interpreted differently by everyone, and Andrew understands that given a person’s background and beliefs, a poem may or may not inspire them. Specific people will have different reactions to the same piece of poetry. He says that “there are some people who say things like ‘This really made my day today.’ But also there are other comments that are like ‘Andrew looks dehydrated, his neck is a rubber chicken or something’ and that isn’t bad – after all, you shouldn’t expect everyone to feel the same.”
When it comes to his own inspirations though, he affirms it really is “95% perspiration and 5% inspiration.” To Andrew, perspiration can come from all kinds of places, especially when he is not going to work and when he is having fun and interacting with the world around him. Inspiration though is more particular. Between smiles, he explains his writing environment: “I’ll set my space up. And I feel safe with pillows, pajamas, rainy days, early mornings and I also like candles. They smell nice and flicker- it’s kinda cute! Always have tea for sure.” Besides that, he mentions many other artists that have and continue to inspire him such as Neil Hilborn (especially his poem “OCD”), Johnny Trinh and Shane Koyzcan (performance of “We Are More”, besides other work).
The idea of storytelling is enhanced by each person that engages in any level of participation, an idea he concludes by explaining that storytelling “is an age world art… and it’s definitely within all of us.”
Photo Credit: Andrew Warner