This year, NorthWords dives into dub poetry and children’s books

NorthWords NWT takes place in Yellowknife in late May. The four-day festival features writers from across Canada and features workshops, readings and panel discussions.

This year’s authors include Ontario dub poet Lillian Allen, who will offer a masterclass in performative poetry, and Yellowknife author of The fox and my bootLana de Bastiani, who will lead a workshop on writing children’s literature.

The two authors will take part in round tables. Allen will be offering readings of his work at the NorthWords gala.


A detailed program is available on the NorthWords websitewhere you can register for events taking place between May 26 and May 29.

Allen, who is Canadian, was born and spent most of her childhood in Jamaica.

“Ever since I was a child, we read a lot of poems in church and in school. I enjoyed all kinds of poetry because in our culture, which is based on hearing, we appreciate language and what what it can do, its effect,” she told Cabin Radio.

“It’s an almost democratic tool in a way. Everyone has access to it. »

The acclaimed poet established her style early in her career.


“When I started studying poetry in school, they didn’t really celebrate what we were doing because we were colonized. We grew up in a colonized community,” she said.

“So we started studying the classics in school, and I could appreciate the effect their language would have on their communities and some of the beauty in the way they expressed an idea, nailed a point of view and evoked emotions.

“I wanted to do this, but for my community. I didn’t want to be like them.

Allen quickly became a pioneer of spoken word and dub poetry.

“It didn’t occur to me that writing was anything other than sharing with my community,” she said, describing how she felt able to hear each poem uniquely because she wrote them not to publish them, but to share them with her community. .

“The idea of ​​the poetry itself was to engage the community.”

This approach became Allen’s dub poetry.

“When I started writing the kind of poetry that we were asked to write, it came out with a different cadence, because the English-British-Shakespeare stuff didn’t really fit the Jamaican cadence,” he said. -she says.

“I was writing these lines the way I knew was the way I was speaking.

“It could be a poem with whatever they want — metaphors, hyperbole, written in iambics — but you can still feel the Jamaican cadence and the Jamaican references.”

Canadian spoken word and dub poetry enthusiasts recognize Allen for her cultural activism, which she incorporates into her writing. She defends cultural equity and intercultural collaborations.

“I write in the present, because for me the present is tied to the past and the future,” Allen said.

“Each generation must rediscover its mission. The movement of things decolonizes. The sounds mean something different and are significant to certain cultures.

“So we are left with the question: can poetry really do anything? »

And according to Allen, yes, it is possible.

“With poetry you can stop the system.”

Allen’s workshop at NorthWords will engage participants in showing them “how to be effective in presenting their work to an audience,” she said.

She encourages all types of poets, not just performance poets, to join the workshop to learn more about engaging communities with poetry.

“Whatever kind of poetry [you write]it will be poetry meant to engage the community and have that impact,” she said.

“It’s what sets us apart as communities and as people who imagine a better future in this colonized and unequal place, and who want to bring vision and language, and be part of the process of connecting and creating… ‘a better world.”

‘Could this be a story?’

De Bastiani’s NorthWords workshop will allow aspiring children’s book authors “to first brainstorm and reflect on what we know about children’s literature, and what our favorite parts of the books are, and then come up with themes “, she said.

The workshop will guide participants through the six pieces of a classic children’s story. “You start with the setting, the characters, what happens, the initial event, all the attempts that are made to resolve that, and then some sort of resolution at the end,” de Bastiani told Cabin Radio.

“A big part of my creative writing process was thinking about what children’s books I liked.

“I loved [the stories] I could relate when I was a kid, so I really drew inspiration from that when I started writing and I continue to do that with my writing.

Illustrator Janet Pacey (left) and Lana de Bastiani launch The Fox and My Boot in 2018. Photo: Supplied

Writing children’s books became increasingly popular in the Northwest Territories, with authors like de Bastiani hoping to reinvigorate children’s literature in the North.

“To grow [in Yellowknife]there weren’t a lot of local children’s books where you could see yourself as a character, so I get really excited when I see myself in books,” she said.

De Bastiani’s debut album The Fox and My Boot describes a fox that stole her boot while she was skating.

“When I posted on social media about [my boot], there was so much interest and people kept saying “this must be a book”. And I thought ‘that’s true, but why?’

“That’s when I started researching children’s books and now I just want to write them all the time.

“Now when I do things, I always think: could this be a story?”

The children’s author says the lack of northern children’s literature is one of her biggest motivations when it comes to writing.

“The more you see yourself in characters or in your setting, the more children can identify with it and understand it.

“The approach I use is to write the kind of books I wish I had read as a kid.

“It’s good that children in the North can have access to local books, and people in the South, when they get them. It’s time for the people of the south to get to know us rather than just getting to know them.

De Bastiani is publishing another children’s book this fall.

Nick the Northern Special, written by de Bastiani and illustrated by Janet Pacey, will tell the story of a dog – de Bastiani’s dog, to be precise – who gets lost after running away. On his way home, he meets other “northern specials” who teach him what makes them special.

“It’s about adopting a dog, told from the dog’s perspective,” de Bastiani said.

With real Northwest Territories dogs used as characters in the book, de Bastiani is running a contest for families to submit a photo of their special Northerner alongside an article about what makes them so special. The contest will launch this summer and at least one winner will be featured in the book.


Colin L. Johnson