Poetry in Motion: The Spoken Word as a Tool of Liberation – El Jones

January 13, 2015

Though  Live from the Afrikan Resistance (Roseway Publishing, 2014) is El Jones' first book of poetry, she is by no means a debut poet. The text represents seven years of spoken word performances from Jones, Halifax's Poet Laureate, that borrow their style from musical genres and pose an uncompromising, passionate challenge to racism, sexism, poverty, and violence. Today's Poetry in Motion explores El's collection, sharing an excerpt of the poem "Toxic Legacy", and a reading of her poem "Mandela".

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Live from the Afrikan Resistance! is a collection of El's spoken word poetry gathered from seven years of performances. Her poems are about community and struggle. They are grounded in the political culture of African Canadians and inherit the styles and substances of hip-hop, dub and calypso’s political commentary. They engage historical themes and figures and analyze contemporary issues—racism, poverty and violence—as well as confront the realities of life as a Black woman. Her voice is urgent, uncompromising and passionate in its advocacy and demands. As El (2014) says, “Spoken word is a tool of liberation.”

El Jones is one of Canada’s most controversial spoken word artists and Halifax’s fifth Poet Laureate. She writes to educate, to move communities to action and to demonstrate the possibilities of resistance and empowerment. She is a two-time National Spoken Word  Champion and the artistic director of Word Iz Bond Spoken Word Artist Collective. She teaches in the African Canadian Transition Program at the Nova Scotia Community College and in the Women’s Studies Program at Acadia University. 

The power of El’s words are evident in the opening lines of “Toxic Legacy”:

There’s a connection between the landfills
And our people’s being killed
Between environmental damage and our physical, spiritual, and mental damage
Whether from slavery, colonization, colored homes or residential schools
And they think they can apologize and make it all better
Just like they think they can recycle and make it all better
There’s a relationship between continued pollution and their continued lack of
            solutions to racism and poverty
Because the problems lie at the root of settler society
It’s a toxic legacy


The feeling one is left with after hearing El speak or reading her poems is perhaps best summed up in the following review of El’s book: “This is how words count, when there’s not much time, and there’s an urgency to the message, to it being passed on, and remembered, and learned from.” (Miles Howe, Halifax Media Co-op) 

Listen to El perform (2013) the poem “Mandela” from her book:



Thanks so much to the team at Roseway, especially Nancy Malek, for sharing El's incredible poetry with us.


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