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A conversation with poet Motion

11 March 2011 No Comments

Poet Motion

By Adebe DeRango-Adem

Motion was born 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 spoken word and hip hop. Her career accolades include a MuchMusic nomination for Best Rap Video Award and the UMAC Award for Best Hip Hop Radio Show.

Sway caught up with Motion to discuss her biggest influences and to find out what really makes her move.

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

Probably before I could actually write. I was always singing, talking, always had songs in my head, taped them on a recorder. We had a lot of records, and mashed up between all the music – reggae, calypso, dub, soul, funk, sound/tracks from Louise Bennett, Richard Pryor, Linton Kwesi and Malcolm X. Isaac Hayes used 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 to write about what I did each day, stuff like that. But then it started growing into writing songs, lyrics, rhymes and then poetry.

At what moment did you realize that you wanted/needed to be a writer/poet/spoken-word artist?  Was there a moment, or was it more of an unfolding series of experiences?

Each phase is inspired by different things… discovering b-sides, meeting power, building with Althea Prince, driving into drama. Each of these and more each time put me on the next trajectory, but I think everything’s been there from the beginning.

What initially prompted you to write your most recent poetry collection, 40 Dayz?

The seed for 40 dayz was planted when I was taking a poetry workshop with Dionne Brand. My challenge was 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.

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?

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. Music has always surrounded and run through me, it’s a passion. Poetry to me is one of the foundation elements. It’s 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.

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

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, to find the connection, and jump off from there, explore the poetry in everyday spaces, real life situations. It’s also 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.

Who are your favourite writers?

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 Dandicat, The Bridge of Beyond. And among that foundation, there are emcees, songwriters, playwrights, and numerous Northside poets and novelists like Althea Prince, d’bi.young, George Elliot and JWyze.

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?

In many ways, our oral/aural culture has been a mode of survival for us. When original texts were 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.

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

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

What author in history would you have loved to have a coffee (or tea) and chat with, and why?

John Coltrane. He composed, he spoke with music. The vibes he put out inspired a lot of things, scripts, poetry. But I’d wanna be in the rehearsal studio with him, instead of coffee. And Zora Neale Hurston… jus because.

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

I’m writing a 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 creation. Soon come – dissemination. Log on to motionlive.com  

Click or more information Motion’s new work, click 40 dayz

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