Victoria Spoken Word Festival
When: Wednesday to March 3
Where: Intrepid Theatre, Solstice Café
Tickets: $5 to $10 for shows at the door, $25 for workshop (register at firstname.lastname@example.org)
Johnny MacRae has been called many things. A fellow poet named him one of the weirdest poets of Canada. Another dubbed him the Bob Ross of Canadian poetry, in reference to the late PBS television painter. And just before stepping onstage at the Portland Poetry Slam, he was introduced as, “a f---ing effortless weirdo.”
He wears his titles with pride.
“I guess I’m perceived as having these quirks and doing weird things,” MacRae said, sitting in Victoria’s Solstice Café, a common performance space for local poets. “I’ve gotten naked numerous times [on stage], I’ve gotten up and done poems that are these completely-out-of-nowhere ideas. But once I embraced that, I had freedom to do whatever I wanted.”
MacRae is the poet of honour at the third annual Victoria Spoken Word Festival, a five-day series of poetry events organized by Victoria poet Missie Peters, featuring 16 poets from across the country. He made the Vancouver Poetry Slam team for the first time in 2009 and won the title of Van Slam grand champion in 2010. When he isn’t doing individual slams, MacRae focuses energy on his collaborative project, 2 Dope Boys, with fellow spoken-word artist shayne avec i grec.
Being called “weird” might offend some. But when you’re a word nerd like MacRae, it means something more.
“I’m obsessed with the word weird,” MacRae said.
In high school, he learned the simplest description: “Weird” is the Anglo-Saxon word for “fate.” In university, he dug deeper, learning it could also be interpreted as “death fate” — the particular thing that kills you.
“My pet obsession is the fact that these old, old words still carry the resonance of their thousands-year-old meanings. You just have to know how to listen to them.”
He found the perfect application of the word in conversation with friends about Superman’s relationship to kryptonite. Kryptonite, he said, is Superman’s “weird.” It’s what’s fated to kill him, but also a weakness that makes him unique.
MacRae has since adapted philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche’s popular phrasing “amor fati,” usually translated to “love your fate,” to “love your weird.”
“That kind of became my life principle,” he said. “Partly as an aspect of embracing who you are — as our society always preaches that people should be their individual selves. But also to recognize what it is that characterizes how you live will characterize how you die, in some way. Or what you choose to do will be what guides you through a specific part of time.”
In Victoria, MacRae will perform a fate-related show called Anthropocalype, as half of 2 Dope Boys. He describes the project as spoken-word theatre, or a rock opera, with poetry instead of songs.
The duo play superheros kicked out of their Garden of Eden and reflect on all of the ways humanity is destroying itself.
“The main part of our show is to try and deflate our arrogance as a species — the sense that we’re masters, we’re special, we’re in control,” he said.
He will also lead a workshop exploring ways to write poetry using objects. A breakthrough in his own writing came when he moved from character-driven writing to animating the inanimate, or giving emotion and personality to things we normally consider to be lifeless.
He explores feelings of shame and embarrassment in that way, for example, through his poem Stinkweed.
“My method of getting that through is to talk outside of humans,” he said. “I’ve got lines early on about how clouds hate that they cry. Mountains feel awkward all the time. … Paintings actually want people to touch them.”
Feb. 27, 8 p.m., Intrepid Theatre: Missie Peters’ Where’s My Flying Car?! and 2 Dope Boys’ Anthropocalypse
Feb. 28, 7:30 p.m., Solstice Café: Tongues of Fire presents The Instant Slam
March 1, 8 p.m., Intrepid Theatre: Festival Ensemble Showcase
March 2, 8 p.m., Intrepid Theatre: Finale: Objects in Space
March 3, 1-4 p.m., Intrepid Theatre: Poetry Workshop with Johnny MacRae
Full information at victoriaspokenwordfestival.com
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