As a child growing up in Yellowknife, words were all that acclaimed spoken-word artist Shane Koyczan had.
“I didn’t have a lot of friends growing up. My method of fun came from comic books with some help from my school’s librarian, who had a knack for pointing me in the right direction based on the books I was reading,” Koyczan tells The MusicNerd Chronicles.
His attraction to the library went beyond books, however. A victim of persistent bullying at school, Koyczan saw the library as a safe space.
“I began to see the library as my sanctuary at school. It was the one safe space I had where I knew horsing around and bullying wouldn’t be tolerated.”
Over and above providing him refuge, reading also provided Koyczan with a glimpse at the world outside of Yellowknife.
“As beautiful as Yellowknife can be, it is a small place. It’s easy to feel isolated, never mind the fact that this was before the internet was available in home and the only television station we received was CBC,” he says.
“My exposure to the outside world came from books. It is through books that I knew there was a whole other world out there that wasn’t covered in ice and snow.”
As a high school student, Koyczan says he became fascinated with the idea of becoming a writer, but says that his high school guidance counsellors were unsure of how exactly to guide him in achieving his goals.
“It wasn’t so much that my high school counsellors were discouraging me from pursuing writing as much as it was more a matter of there not necessarily being a clear-cut path to make that happen. If you want to be a doctor or a lawyer, there are very clear paths you can follow, but when it comes to the arts, that path doesn’t necessarily exist. That ended up confusing me more than anything because then I began wondering how writers existed without so much a career path to follow.
“So I took it on myself to just keep writing. There was no master plan or anything. I had simply arrived at a point where I realized that if I didn’t pursue writing, I may never have the chance to do it. I realized that not actively pursuing a passion is what causes the things we love to die: The passion becomes a hobby that eventually fades away or gets pushed to the backburner. That scared me, and so I gave myself a year to see where writing could take me.”
Koyczan’s decision soon paid off. A grassroots following soon snowballed into one of the artist’s books of poetry – A Bruise On Light – becoming Kickstarter’s most successful poetry project. Sold-out performances, a TED Talk and a plethora of accolades followed and continue to pour in.
“I do what I do because I love it. I enjoy being challenged. At the outset of my career, I thought landing a publisher or contract was a necessity, but I soon came to find out that spoken word is one of those things that labels or publishing houses don’t tend to support. So I went it alone. I love the fact that I don’t have to answer to anyone else. I can release my work how I want and when I want and have been very fortunate, to having an incredible grassroots support system that has helped champion what it is I’m doing.”
Given the stark, confessional tones and topics that permeate Koyczan’s work, he shares that many of those reading his work or attending his shows feel a subsequent connection with the author. He shares that while he understands he could be touching upon something that a reader or audience member holds dear to their hearts, he continues to be amazed that people find his work inspiring.
“I never thought I’d be in a situation where I meet someone and they can’t get a word out. The fact that something I did means so much to someone else that they are rendered speechless, it just blows me away,” Koyczan says.
“I tend to receive a fair amount of letters from people as well. Many of them are eager to share their story with me and tell me how much something I’ve done might have helped them through a particularly rough time. Some people go into personal, dark spaces that can be quite hard to read, but the fact they feel it is something they feel comfortable sharing with me is rewarding in itself. I can appreciate the need to feel as though you have a sense of belonging somewhere. While I can’t solve the problems, I can write poetry and hope that it might help someone hurt a little less.”
What: Shivering Songs Presents Shane Koyczan
When: Saturday Jan. 23, 7 p.m.
Where: Tide & Boar Ballroom, 700 Main St., Moncton
Tickets are $33 (plus service charges). Advance tickets available for purchase online at tideandboar.com/music