Kaie Kellough 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 Kaie about his relationship to poetry, working between genres, and expanding the boundaries of our concept of “community.”
LEAGUE OF CANADIAN POETS: How did sound poetry become a part of your life?
KAIE KELLOUGH: A slow crossing of displaced letters into my lyric.
Gradually, understanding that I live between English and French, and that I have a relationship with various Nation Languages from the Caribbean, which led to thinking about the intersection of class, race, region, and language. Part of this thinking engages the remarkable fact of people displaced from Africa, India, and China to the West Indies and beyond, how they transformed European languages. For me, that reality is immense and inescapable, and it seems to exceed the poem, the novel, or other familiar cultural forms in which it gets explored.
Also, with thanks to Margaret Christakos and Bill Bissett, a gradual dawning of the idea that language can be taken apart and its smallest components manipulated. I felt frustrated with having to say the poem from beginning to end, its words fixed in place, and wanted to incorporate improvisation, to create tension between sense and non-sense, between the order of the poem and whatever lay outside of that order. A desire to simultaneously inhabit the poem while exiting it, which is the condition of a person like me, who lives in Montréal but whose family crossed a world to “arrive” here. A desire to trouble a listener’s understanding of what I am saying – to trouble the expectations that might arise when they first look at me, brown in front of the microphone. Sound poetry is not necessarily a point of arrival, but a deferral, a vast area for experimenting.
LCP: How do the works you create in different mediums inspire or interact with each other?
KK: Different mediums contain and reference one-another. When reading or writing a poem I interact with letters and words as visual objects. If I’m composing a sound-poem I am preoccupied with the sonic narrative. Does it develop logically? I am considering that narrative in a way similar to how I would approach a work of fiction. If I’m writing fiction, there is always concern for the oral, the voice of the narrator: Who is speaking and how do they sound?
With respect to individual works in particular forms, I think of them as passages in a unified life-work, one that is constantly developing, and one that is not restricted to any single medium. Matana Roberts’ COIN COIN project has been instructive here, with each record forming a part of a 12-chapter work on African American history.
LCP: In an interview with Tanya Evanson for PRISM International, you said feeling like an outsider “allows for a certain freedom when it comes to observing the city you’re writing about.” I wonder, what role do you feel community/place/belonging has in an artist’s creative life?
KK: People are multiple, so a person can be an outsider/diasporan drifter while being rooted in a particular place and experience. My reading has always mirrored this, and my sense of community is fairly diverse and vast – necessarily so. When I was younger, very few people like me were visible in Canadian letters. I was on the prairie, and not in the main centers of Black English writing in Canada. I had to think of community as spanning provinces, generations, ethnicities, sexual orientations, hemispheres, and that experience is not unique.
On a more intimate level, to develop as a writer a person needs access to opportunities in the literary world, and those opportunities arise from being connected to others – from having the acceptance and support of peers, mentors, gatekeepers. It is frightening, though, how communities can become insular. So perhaps one theme of this interview is balancing inclusion with independence, proximity with distance.
LCP: Who are some of your biggest artistic influences (working in any genre)?
KK: Probably the strongest influence has been the poet Kamau Brathwaite. His practice is varied, with an abiding concern for the visual and for the voice. I have always loved the way he addresses plants and objects: “Ship / house on the water / I salute you // I am a bale of straw…” The sense of the world as animate is embedded in his work. This is something that has dawned on me more strongly as I’ve traveled to the Caribbean and South America, where the world of plants is incredibly varied and abundant, and the objects – the seawalls, the streets, the churches and verandas – have been present in a history different from the one I’ve witnessed, yet one to which I am connected.
Another major influence has been the vast sweep of the Caribbean and African- American vocal traditions. They include voice in all of its manifestations, from the declamations of poets through the most disciplined articulations of singers. Voice as technology, as history, as an extendable, invisible limb. Uttered sound enters the world and interacts with it. Your sound can literally touch a maple leaf in the yard, a concrete pillar across the alley, or an earlobe in the next room.
LCP: What are you currently reading?
KK: A variety of works, some edging toward completion, others just being started, and yet others being re-visited. For the moment:
Patricia Powell: The Pagoda
Edward Said: Culture and Imperialism
Dionne Brand: Ossuaries
John Keene: Counternarratives
Listen to Kaie’s sound poem “tidalect” from the album Vox:Versus, published in 2010 and featuring Stefan Christoff on piano: