Shane Koyczan steps up on stage and as soon as he speaks, people don’t just hear, they listen. This effect is thanks to his unique ability to channel in his words, detailed experiences that are so specific we feel as though we are living them with him, side-by-side. Every ounce of pain endured as a bullied kid, every measurement of pleasure at finding love, and every drip of pride in being through and through, a home grown Canadian, we feel it too. His words woven together like intricate textile, yet his delivery has the ease of the great orators of our time. Shane Koyczan is heart and soul, a poet.
On getting started
Me and my friend starting a poetry reading series in Penticton in a small café. We didn’t know what we were doing. We were kind of just like, “Hey, we’d like to read our poems out loud to people.” That’s kind of how it all got started. Then I moved to Vancouver and fell into the scene there. That’s how I got started with the [US National Poetry] Slam and then I just moved away from Slam because I wanted to keep growing.
On poetry as therapy
I think [poetry] is just a way to express yourself. For me it’s certainly been cheaper than therapy. I think it’s just a way of getting what you want to say out there and in a way people might want to hear it.
On using a backing band
A lot of times when people hear the word poem, they run in the other direction, like “Oh my God, don’t want to get trapped in a poetry reading.” [Using music] has been really effective in the way people might not appreciate poetry, but music is an element they understand. It’s amazing to see people’s reactions like they were dragged to this, but leave having a changed mind about poetry.
On relating to strangers
The moment I started seeing people relate to what I was saying, while they didn’t have exactly the same experiences that I was having, they were going through something similar and I think that level of connectivity back to people, back to strangers, is really powerful for me and sort of gave me the drive to continue with it and see how much further I can take it.
On poetry versus politicians
[With poetry] it’s the visceral nature of it. You’re really there and caught up in what somebody is saying. It’s that passion you see. You don’t see a lot of passion in politicians. Politicians, somewhere along the way, I don’t know, they dropped that part out and really became static in what it was they were saying. Here’s the facts and it’s not even really the facts…I remember when politicians cared enough to write their own speeches. Like when you see somebody like [Pierre] Trudeau speak or if you read some of the speeches that Abraham Lincoln wrote, they’re incredible. How can you not be stirred by that? A lot of the times people forget the power that emotions and words have together and when used properly they can really affect people.
On Charlie Chaplin
Charlie Chaplin, not really known as a talker, but when he did say things he really made them count. A lot of my favourite quotes come from Charlie Chapin. And I don’t know if you’ve ever seen the Great Dictator and that speech he delivers at the end. I grew up watching Charlie Chaplin in chronological order. My granddad, we’d sit together and every weekend, we’d watch a Charlie Chaplin movie. I just got used to him not speaking. And then we put on the Great Dictator. He didn’t tell me he talks in this one. That speech happens and I was blown away. And I was a child at that time. I didn’t necessarily understand what he was talking about, but I could see and feel the emotion – the urgency of what he was saying and that really affected me. A lot of my performance style comes from that.
On “Instructions for a Bad Day”
I started getting letters from all these students. They were all independent of one another. Nobody knew they were emailing me. And then finally I got one from the Vice Principal there. It wasn’t a pleading for help. It was just a sincere asking. Here’s the situation and here’s what happened. Can you help us out? I was like, “What can I do?” I suffered from depression myself and just come out of a depression and that’s what led me to what I told myself to get through this. That’s how this piece came about. It was so amazing to see everyone in that community drop everything and do this and put the work in. It was done for zero dollars. Done by students, not just for students, but for anyone having a bad day.
On new projects
We’ve got the new book coming out. We launch that at the Vogue on April 21st. I’m pretty excited about that. The book is called Our Deathbeds Will Be Thirsty. After that I am pretty much working full time on the new Mad Max movie. There are a ton of projects on the plate. They keep piling up too. It’s good to be busy. It’s good to be a working poet.