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".
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:
All Lit Up is produced by the Literary Press Group and LitDistCo. LPG and LitDistCo acknowledge the financial support of the Department of Canadian Heritage, the Canada Council for the Arts, and the Ontario Arts Council.
All views expressed by bloggers and contributors to the All Lit Up blog are their own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of All Lit Up or the Literary Press Group.
All Lit Up acknowledges we are hosted on the lands of the Mississaugas of the Credit, the Anishinaabeg, the Haudenosaunee, and the Wendat. We also recognize the enduring presence of all First Nations, Métis and the Inuit people, and we are grateful to have the opportunity to meet and work on this territory.