Fringe performer says poetry saved his life

Rodney DeCroo started out in a rough neighbourhood in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania along the polluted Allegheny River, made his way around British Columbia, landing in Vancouver's Lower East Side.

Rodney DeCroo wrote about dealing with a father with PTSD

Rodney DeCroo blends poetry, music and storytelling in his Fringe show, Allegheny, BC. (Angela Fama)

Fringe performer Rodney DeCroo credits poetry for saving his life.

DeCroo started out in a rough neighbourhood in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania along the polluted Allegheny River, made his way around British Columbia, landing in Vancouver's Lower East Side. He has turned his difficult experiences into poetry and song and now a powerful Fringe show​, Alleghaney, BC (Stupid Boy in an Ugly Town).

"My inner geography is a mixture of Allegheny County, Pennsylvania and BC. Everything in my show deals with my life in those places," he said.

DeCroo grew up in a lower-income, working-class neighbourhood surrounded by a decaying environment. His father returned from Vietnam with PTSD.

Eventually DeCroo and his father moved to BC, but dealing with PTSD meant his father had difficulty holding down a job, so they moved around every few months. Eventually, abandoned by his father, DeCroo ended up homeless in Vancouver.

Meanwhile, he had discovered poetry.

"I make no bones about it, poetry saved my life. All the years that I lived on the streets and worked terrible jobs and everywhere I went I had my satchel of poems. I was constantly reading it and constantly writing it," he said.

"I could feel in the energy of the language and the sounds that there was something really fine happening, something really beautiful and that there was an attempt to give expression to feelings and a deeper part of one's self. I needed that desperately because I didn't know how to talk about all the things I was experiencing. It was hard for me as a kid."

So DeCroo wrote about it all, the filthy river of his childhood and his father with the violence and addictions he brought home from Vietnam.

DeCroo's current Fringe show is a blend of his poetry, his poems set to music, and storytelling. He's joined by cellist Clara Shandler. Together they take the audience on a journey through the touchstone moments of his life.

"There is a lot of humour in the show, too, and ultimately the play finds hope and finds the beauty and the dignity in that world, too," he said.

Rodney DeCroo presents Allegheny, BC (Stupid Boy in an Ugly Town) at the Asper Centre for Theatre and Film (U of W) until July 27.