Olympic ceremony poet bursts onto world stage
Slam poet Shane Koyczan is still reeling from his appearance at Vancouver's Olympic opening ceremony in which he delivered what many call a defining moment for Canadians with his poem We Are More.
Koyczan, who was born in Yellowknife and moved to Penticton, B.C., in his teens, says the enormity of the moment at Friday night's ceremony, in front of an estimated 3.5 billion people, didn't hit him until the curtain was about to drop.
"I was like, 'You either go for it, or jump.'"
Spoken with a rapper's cadence, the 34-year-old's poem referenced several clichés — And some say what defines us / Is something as simple as 'please' and 'thank you' — and made mention of No. 99 and saying "zed" instead of "zee."
Beyond that, it contained a radiant pride in qualities that are immeasurable:
"We are an idea in the process of being realized," and "We are an experiment going right for a change."
Throughout the night and into the weekend, the poet's performance became a Twitter sensation and has been the talk of media articles within Canada and around the world.
"Wow wow wow, that speech/rap about Canada was powerful! Tears in my eyes," Tweeted Canadian figure skating champ Jeffrey Buttle.
Koyczan said that when he was asked to participate in the opening ceremonies with his poem, he hesitated for a moment but was reminded of something his grandmother said.
"Once you say 'no' to an opportunity, it's gone and so are all the opportunities that could have come with it."
Born to a French mother and a First Nations father, Koyczan was raised by his grandparents in Yellowknife and didn't really know his parents very well. He says he's only recently forged a relationship with his dad.
Bullying led to writing
Upon moving to B.C. when he was 14, Koyczan says he was bullied a lot and he didn't know how to socialize very well. This is the reason he honed his writing skills.
"Not knowing how to speak to people, I decided it might be best to go home and write some prepared speeches."
Eventually ending up in drama class, he discovered he had a performing talent and began doing plays.
In university, his professors encouraged his writing and soon, he was delving into poetry.
Koyczan says his writing classes were what saved him: "That was not only a creative outlet but an emotional one for me."
A few years ago, he was approached by the Canadian Tourism Commission to write a love poem for Canada.
"My first take was that I love to complain about the government," he admits.
He managed to divest himself of the negative and decided to concoct a poem that gave a nod to stereotypes, which then serve as launching pad for the "more" in the title.
"I'm just telling people, we're more than what the world thinks of us … We're more than the butt of a joke. We're more than the cliché."
As he says in the poem:
We are millions upon millions of voices / Shouting, keep exploring / We are more / We are the surprise the world has in store for you, it's true / Canada is the 'what' in 'what's new.'
With files from The Canadian Press