Ian Keteku is one of three finalists for the 2018 Sheri-D Wilson Golden Beret Award. This annual award was created by Sheri-D Wilson—a pioneer of spoken word poetry in Canada—to honour a Canadian spoken word artist who has made a substantial contribution to the development of spoken word, through the originality and excellence of his or her own writing/performance works, and through involvement in—and contributions to—the expansion of the spoken word community. We asked Ian some questions about his relationship to poetry, his influences, and his belief that there’s a poet in all of us.
LEAGUE OF CANADIAN POETS: How did spoken word poetry become a part of your life?
IAN KETEKU: As a kid in Ghana I once read a poem at the National Theatre. I cannot remember a single word of the poem. I do remember walking to the stage, feeling full of purpose.
My illiterate grandmother was Queen Mother of her town and part of her job was to speak to the townspeople while speaking through the ancestors. She spoke the news in parables, offered laughter, gin and prayer as a prescription for tomorrow. I also have my grandmother’s mouth.
Years later in Calgary I was spontaneously asked to lead prayer in front of the church congregation. I prayed aloud, reaching from somewhere beyond myself. It is one of my mother’s favourite memories.
For me, spoken word poetry is not just a genre or art-form, it is a means of greater connection between each other and the unknown around us. It is prescription and mirror. It is not something that I found or miraculously became part of my life, it has always lingered, just by a different name.
I can mention the time I opened for spoken word legend Saul Williams in Edmonton, or the first time I attended Capital Slam in Ottawa but these moments are all part of a larger path which began well before I was born.
LCP: Who are some of your biggest artistic influences (of any genre)?
– Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, assisted in freeing Ghana from colonial rule.
– Donatello (Ninja Turtles), he is a bit of a nerd, practical and innovative.
– Komi Olaf, painter, poet and chosen brother.
– My mother and her resilience. Her creativity in surviving and thriving.
– Stories that seem too serendipitous to be true.
– Toddlers and animals, and what they say without speaking.
– Sade. Sade. Sade.
LCP: You’ve said “we are all born poets, some of us just have not realized it yet.” Do you recall the moment you began identifying as a poet? What drew you to using this identifier?
IK: One beautiful thing about spoken word is that it accepts many different forms of communication as “poetry.” A song, a dance, a speech, 48 bars – all poetry. When I speak of “the poet,” I am talking about the ability to see something differently and communicate that. It is a way of seeing, which everyone is capable of, which everyone already does.
I do not think of myself as only a poet but it is an easy way for people to identify an aspect of who I am. It is a middle finger to those communities in CanLit who do not respect spoken-word as part of their cannon. And the title,
“contemporaryAfricanstory-tellingmulti-mediaartistexploringthenuancesofexistence,whowritesthemdownandreads themaloud,” is way too long for a business card.
LCP: Much of your work seems to exist in a space somewhere between art and therapy and even complicates the idea that these two “things” can be separate. How has poetry healed or helped you?
IK: Poetry can be therapeutic but therapy is not the purpose of my poetry. I intend to write from a place of questioning, of challenging and contemplation. I pray my work is a part of a larger purpose than just the therapy of myself or any audience. I do not know the true impact my work has on others, or if it has any measurable impact at all. For me, it is about an energy placed into the ether, someway of contributing towards the consciousness of humanity. Sometimes my work is sharp and political, a stone in the face of Babylon. It is not meant for therapy.
It is about stating a truth, knowing all truths are subjective.
LCP: What are you reading?
IK: My Vision by Muammar Gaddafi and Edmond Jouve.
Watch Ian’s latest cinepoem, The Message, below.