'Let us speak differently about the world:' Poet says social change starts with language

Words and how we use them can change the world, says Sheri-D Wilson, who is taking part in a number of events at the Festival of Words in Moose Jaw, Sask.

Calgary's Sheri-D Wilson practises balance in spoken word at Moose Jaw festival

Sheri-D Wilson is at the Festival of Words in Moose Jaw, Sask., this weekend. (

Words and how we use them can change the world, says Sheri-D Wilson.

The Calgary-based poet and spoken-word artist is taking part in a number of events at the Saskatchewan Festival of Words in Moose Jaw, Sask., this weekend.

"Treating each other and the land and everything we do with respect, that has to start with how we speak," she told CBC Radio's Saskatchewan Weekend.

Her latest work, The Book of Sensations, explores the connections between words and the natural world. She said it grew organically from her previous book, Open Letter: Woman Against Violence Against Women.

She said her mantra coming out of that book was, "How we treat women is how we treat the Earth/How we treat the Earth is how we treat women."

As a young artist, the beat poets of the 1960s were her teachers and instilled in her the belief that poetry can bring about change. But it wasn't until her experiences writing Open Letter, and then exploring dying languages and their relationship to the land for The Book of Sensations, that how she writes and speaks became as important as what she writes.

'Feeding the Mordor'

She said she takes extreme care in balancing light and dark now, and that includes being careful of stirring up negative energy.

"I call it 'feeding the Mordor,'" she said. Mordor is the dark region ruled by the evil Sauron in the Lord of the Rings series.

"I have a couple of new poems that I feel 'feed the Mordor' and I didn't know it before, and I realize that we have to be careful of how we even talk about the negative side. Giving it too much energy is giving it power."

There's one "Mordor-feeding" poem in particular that, before she performs it now, she precedes by telling the audience, "Let's observe this. Let's observe what we're saying."

That's not to say she tries to minimize dark aspects of life. But she said it's a "poet's responsibility these days to share a positive light without losing sight of what's really happening."

Social change

"Social change doesn't come necessarily with 'pound, pound, pound — these are the negative things.' I think social change comes with 'let us speak differently about the world.'"

She takes balancing the light and dark seriously in her writing and performing, going so far as to use a stopwatch when she's writing.

"The exact amount of time that I spend on the hard negative and violent aspects of life, I spend the equal amount of time on the healing and the positive and the inclusive voice.

"When I read those poems, I do the same thing. I don't ever just leave it in the negative."

The Saskatchewan Festival of Words runs July 13-16.

With files from CBC Radio's Saskatchewan Weekend