Friday, March 19, 2010

"One for poetry, two for joy..."*

Victoria's own (we love saying that!) Magpie Ulysses is our very special feature atTongues of Fire next Thursday (March 25th for those keeping score)... a stellar poet and a powerhouse performer, who knew she also gave really good interview?

We're used to stage names or 'poetic' names and they're usually pretty obvious and self-explanatory. Not so yours! For those who don't know, or have perhaps forgotten, what's going on with your stage name: a bird and the heroic Greek figure?

I collect a lot of things. As a result I was once called a Human Magpie by an Irish friend of a friend after showing him my collections. The Ulysses came from a bar chat with a bunch of poets after I mentioned that I was thinking about a stage name... On the "academic" side of things... the name represents the kind of juxtapositions that all good poetry should have. A trickster bird who loves shiny stuff, and a strong leader on the quest for self. But mostly, I thought it was funny because I am a recovering Hippie. Everyone seems to change their name when they move to the west coast and so I started signing up as such. Most people at first thought it was a joke. Some people said I might regret the stage name. It may be a tad schizophrenic once in a while but I love it. Magpie has her own life, she likes it that way.

Let's slap a label on you: Poet? Performer? Spoken Word Artist? Slam Poet?

Performance Poet. I started performing long before I ever knew that poetry slams or "spoken word" existed outside of hiphop.

And let's take that label off (cuz labels aren't nice): now who are you? How do you see yourself in the world?

Seriously? Can I really answer this question in a paragraph? This is why I write. I'll sort it out one day.

How did you feel the first time you stepped up a mic to read what you had written? How long ago was that?

The first time!? I was 17. How long ago? I don't know, I'm a writer, not a mathematician!

I grew up in Alberta, and used to read at this super sweet poetry open mic at an awesome cafe on 17th Ave that I can never remember the name of. The owner, Peter, used to make everyone come in the back. He'd lock the front door and pack the cafe two Saturday night's a month. You had to be invited because (as he said) that way when the boys in blue showed up and asked what the hell was going on he could say that we were all his friends. Every reader was given 15 minutes, there would be three readers and then a 15 min break. It was an amazing time. I met a lot of writers, and was given some very profound positive feedback including an invitation to publish (one I never took).

The first time I was ever paid for poetry was when I was 19. I started a spoken word organization, one that still exists, in Lethbridge Alberta called Most Vocal, and was pushed and mentored by my friend (a local performance poet) Jac DePeuter, to perform my poetry and not just read it off a page. He said "you put too much time into writing the damn thing, to not put the time into reading it as well."

It inspired a whole world for me. I wrote some a'capella songs, and still remember my first performance poems. I did a full set for the first time at South Country fair in Ft. McLeod, Alberta. Everyone sat on the ground. I was sunburnt and stoned. It went over pretty well. I made friends who have lasted.

What's the next poetry-related goal you want to fulfill?

I need to put out a full length CD. It has been five years since I started performing in Vancouver (and elsewhere) on a regular basis. I would love to create something that has a unified flow from beginning to end. Poems that hold on their own, but also string together as one long story. Like a really great instrumental album with few pauses in between poems. Perhaps I will include music, but more likely many voices. I like to think of the spoken voice as an instrument. It would be fun to work with that.

Can you tell us about the poem you haven't written yet?

It's about falling in love with a three year old, and I mean really, not just thinking he's rad because all kids are rad, but we really fell in love with each other. It's about having many types of soul mates. It's mostly about friendship, the language we have and don't use to express these things, and about longing.

What are the subjects that really engage you?

I am always inspired by all the unspoken things in our lives. The things that don't get talked about. I love words, so finding fascinating ways to express these inner most quiet experiences tend to be my goal. At the moment, I am very inspired to write things that hold light within them. Things can get really dark when you start to look at unspoken thoughts and inaction, so I am really excited to be writing about these things and finding light and humour within all of our "darkest" places.

We run your poetry through the ice-cream maker: what flavour do we get at the business end?

Likely Pistachio with a hint of cayenne. It is sweet and smooth and earthy tasting at the core, but gives you a little jab at the end that remains to sting... but not for too long.

* adapted from an old nursery rhyme bout magpies...

photography by Patrick Shannon

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