Earlier this month, the McGill Social Equity and Diversity Education Office (SEDE) and the Sustainable Projects Fund (SPF) held an evening workshop for poetry writing in the SSMU Ballroom. The workshop, called Poetry as a Tool for Healing and Joy, was facilitated by the acclaimed Canadian artist and spoken-word poet Brandon Wint. Born in Toronto, the now Edmonton-based writer, educator, and national slam-poet champion was in the middle of his Canada-wide tour when he contacted Malek Yalaoui, SEDE’s Community Projects Manager, to see if he could add Montreal as a stop. Yalaoui seized the opportunity, reaching out to Shanice Yarde, SEDE’s Anti-Racism and Cultural Diversity Equity Educational Advisor, and Dona La Luna, founder of diVERTcite, to co-organize a financially accessible, racialized-persons-only, creative-writing centred event. In what appears to be kismet for a night of creative self-care, the three also happen to be writer-poets.
Wint began the workshop by asking participants if they had ever been in love. The participants’ varied reactions revealed something interesting about these kinds of heavy questions — their most articulate answers were involuntarily expressed in non-vocalized language. Averted eyes, a half-smile, or even hesitation can hint not only a ‘yes’ or a ‘no,’ but also makes clear the layers, complications, and oftentimes painful messes that love imparts on the human existence. Wint, seemingly aware of this, was smiling warmly as he explained the question, “Love is the truth. Anyone who has been in love or pursues love in their lives is a dreamer and a truth-seeker.”
“Love is the truth. Anyone who has been in love or pursues love in their lives is a dreamer and a truth-seeker.” — Brandon Wint
He also gave an explicit, if indirect answer to his own question, disclosing, “I’m a lover. Love is my truth and the language I speak.” But even Wint had to admit that love’s nature is profoundly difficult, characterized by blessings and euphoria at its beginnings and cursed for the inevitable pain when it ends. The experience of love was likened to learning a difficult language, where humans tend to create and suffer immeasurable pain because in practice, they often mess up. A lot.
But as the workshop progressed, so did an understanding of how poetry, healing, joy, and truth could be fundamentally linked to the elusive and suspect Love. The room’s dreamy air of tenderness and vulnerability snapped into literary enthusiasm when Wint shared the powerful adage, “Good poetry communicates before it is understood.” Poetry is a unique artifact of language, it seemed, because its understanding has very little to do with its mastery as a language, or even mastery of language at all.
Before the participants got to writing, Wint asked them to think of “writing as a testimony to the joy and healing you are experiencing,” suggesting that practicing self-care is as much of a vigourous process as is the development of writing. He advised authenticity and sincerity in cultivating both, but especially self-love. He also reminded participants to be aware of falling into the trap of finite expectations — that writing for personal healing and joy doesn’t always result in a finished product that is tangible, or always ‘good.’
“I’ve never written myself into healing. Healing for me is, instead, the process of writing over and over again, in my head and on paper, what my needs are for healing and what it looks like.” Self-love is key because it is the natural, albeit demanding .outcome of writing, which must come from the heart rather than forced intellectualization. It is the process in which the writer understands their self and the “magic within” them, as Wint encouraged.
The room’s dreamy air of tenderness and vulnerability snapped into literary enthusiasm when Wint shared the powerful adage, “Good poetry communicates before it is understood.”
This sentiment was echoed by the organizers, who had clearly exerted themselves to overcome broad access barriers for the workshop participants. The workshop was open to all racialized and people of colour from the general public, and provided participants with writing materials, childcare services, stress-relief objects, and even delicious Jamaican cuisine for dinner (the organizers made sure to seek out everyone’s dietary needs prior to the event). All of their graciousness came at zero cost to participants.
Yarde explained the rationale behind this model of accessibility: “Making events widely accessible is part of a larger cultural shift to start valuing people over dollars. It uplifts and centres the voices and experiences of marginalized people on campus, and reimagines who a McGill student could be. The beautiful energy created after three hours in one room was an example of the power in people of colour, especially when we come together and show how much we can do with so little.”
As the workshop’s name suggests, poetry can be used to realize true joy, which Wint described as the marriage of one’s needs and wants, at precisely the most opportune moments in life. Perhaps the most fulfilling way to achieve happiness is by allowing it to form naturally upon expressing sincere love for one’s self and others. It also involves reckoning with the truth of one’s own existence. For Wint, love expressed through poetry is the universal truth in which he finds himself liberated, adding to his purpose in life by sharing his experiences onstage and in circles like this one. The truth, if understood by Wint, ultimately does set one free. This sense of liberation is what Wint hopes his audiences achieve through understanding their own relationships to writing and poetry.