BeWyrd (a.k.a. MCC) is a Montreal (Tiohtià:ke)-based poet, musician, Twitch streamer, and president of the Throw! Poetry Collective. His roots are in Northern Ontario. He represented Montreal at the 2013 and 2014 Canadian Festivals of Spoken Word. You can find BeWyrd behind the curtains at a poetry show or online streaming video games, songs, protests, or politics.
As long as I’ve known you, it’s been in the poetry world—I’m curious to know how you first got involved and what drew you to spoken word poetry?
I was always a big nerd. I wrote a lot of poetry, it’s how I kind of escaped in my small town. So when I came to Montreal, I was honestly astounded that there were other people like me, who found their voice on the page. It was a bit of a shock to my system that you could just get up on a stage and read what you had written, and that would be a show. Of course, so much more was happening with the Throw! Poetry Slam: you had scores, and judges—it felt like so much more than I could have ever imagined. I was honestly just hooked the first year I came to Montreal—I found the jazz scene, found Kalmunity [a long-running urban music improv collective], found Throw! Poetry Slam. I’ve been chasing those veins for quite a while.
Whenever I watch you perform poetry, you have this really musical cadence and rhythmic element. Will you tell me a bit more about the origins of your particular performance style?
There’s a couple answers. I never wanted to plateau or get stale, I always want to keep moving, but I’m a musician at heart. I’ve been listening to and playing music for far longer than I’ve been writing poetry. I’ve written songs that have poems in them, so it seemed sane to have poems with music in them. There was also a really influential talk by Leonard Bernstein, an incredible musician and composer, who did this talk at Harvard about how music and language are so intertwined, like how some of the first words that humans ever made might have been songs. As we call out “Mamaaa, I want mamaaaa,” we’re getting close to music, and so many societies have words like “madre” or “mama” or “mother” with this “maaa” sound to it. To me, poetry and language and music—these things are just humans doing this beautiful dance, you know, we’re always doing that with sound, so that’s why it’s melded together in my performances.
When you began writing in the small town you grew up in, were you creating poetry and song at the same time? Or were those creative processes separate?
They were really separate. I mean, I was into karate, so I did my karate things. I was into volleyball, I did volleyball things. I was into poetry, did the poetry thing. And into music—they were all very separate. It was only after being exposed to culture in Montreal and seeing what other people were doing, and wanting to break those barriers down, and being a bit more skilled, that I got more adept at getting these disciplines closer together.
There’s a poem of yours called “Tear Down the Statues” that really has that musical cadence. It seems to be a very political poem and speaks to a lot of issues around colonialism. Spoken word poetry can be such an important vehicle for political stances, so I’m curious what writing that piece was like for you? It’s a meaningful poem, what inspired you to write it?
I’m flattered you think so! “Tear Down the Statues”, if you can believe it, was written in a day. Part of the reason was that so much frustration had been bottled up in me. I had read the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report summary—I’m a nerdy fellow, I like to read and learn things from books, but that messed me up. It honestly was a very difficult journey getting through that, and it radically reshaped how I thought about my country’s history. I just sat on it. It’s not like I had a venue to talk about residential schools, except for orange shirt day, you know? I work in education and we had a couple of events, but most people are still pretty touchy around the issue and I thought that tearing down statues was a pretty simple, straightforward political message that people could rally behind. And people were rallying behind it, finding statues of people that everyone could agree, in the morals of our time, did not deserve veneration. We’ve got history books, they don’t need a bloody statue. So, when the news came out about all of the graves found at the residential schools and more were still being unearthed, an image was circulating by some protesters who had spilled red paint on the steps of a church. They put red hand prints all over the doors and scribbled “we were children.” I saw that in the morning and all day I wrote. I was at work, I think I had class that day, and, I kid you not, every single moment I was just tearing at this poem. It came out almost fully formed in perfect metre, like rhyming and everything. It just surprised me because in previous experiences I’ve spent a year trying to write a poem, you know? It can be an awful process. So, that’s the story: I had some feelings that were bottled up, the country started talking about the issue in a serious way, a popular image circulated, and it just poured out on the page. Honestly, I’ve been working on it ever since. I wrote it like six months ago, and I’m still tightening it up, still making it stronger.
I want to jump into some of your work with Montreal’s Throw! Poetry Collective. I’d love to know how and when you got involved?
Throw! are pretty much just kind, warm-hearted people from all walks of life. I started putting time in—like any community, you put time in, you show up, you help out, you listen. Some people come, some people go, and if you stay long enough, suddenly you’re the one who stayed the longest and people are looking to you for answers. Part of how I went from spectator to becoming part of Throw! was that I ended up going to the Canadian Festival of Spoken Word. That was like… wow! Realizing that people are doing this across the country really expanded my mind and made me think that this was more than just a local scene. My faith went up and I’ve been toiling away ever since to try to keep Throw! alive and to keep poetry alive in the city. Honestly, I think it’s a beautiful thing—just very simply nice.
You’ve been very good at keeping it going, that’s for sure! Your involvement has led to you standing at the helm of Throw! as president, and really making things happen. As somebody who’s been involved for so long and who has put so much of your life and labour into this poetry collective, I’m curious about where you see it going in the future.
Well, we’re in a tough moment. We need the tools to help us come together and we need words to find wisdom. Wisdom doesn’t just grow on trees, you have to find it through conversation, through talking, through listening to what people did before and what people are doing now. I want Throw! to be a part of that conversation. I think poetry is one of the last refuges of the dispossessed and marginalized. It’s one of the few places where you can speak truth to power and have a community support you in it. Some poems don’t get paid lots of money, some poems change the minds of nations. It would be beautiful if any such poem came from a scene like Throw! or a scene like The People’s Poetry. Hopefully we get there. The big dream is that there’s a pipeline to schools, because I know there’s a lot of buzz happening with slam poetry in school boards across Quebec. Amazing French scenes are happening too—there’s the Quebec slam. I think the more that people engage in this, the more we’ll be able to get through this tough moment.
It is definitely a tough moment for artists. It’s tougher to share work and to share art together in the midst of this pandemic. I’m curious, from your perspective both as someone involved with Throw! and also as an artist, how do you feel that spoken word poetry can still be shared and enjoyed?
I hate to say it, but I guess social media is our answer everybody! You’ve just got to use it mindfully. If you find communities that are wholesome and grow them intentionally, you can keep out the weirdos and hateful bigots. It’s tough, especially for the non-binary and trans community. Hate raids are a thing online, and it’s honestly awful that we’re still in this pandemic, but if we’re stuck indoors then we’ve got to be creative with how we spend time online. And be creative with how we spend time outside! Go ice skating if you need to go on a date, you know? I hear the museums are still open. You can go walk around Mont Royal park and get yourself something at the confectionery. You know, we just have got to be more creative. We’ve got to find the space, and poetry can be found outside, poetry can be found online too.
Are there any online Throw! poetry events coming up?
We were supposed to have a poetry slam at the Théâtre Sainte-Catherine on January 9th, but instead we did an online show. There’s also an event coming up on the 13th of February, so if you got something you want to read, come out! We will keep having online poetry shows in the future that folks can check out.
That’s great to know! Good to hear that there’s still events happening online. I’m wondering what you see happening for yourself artistically in the future—any dream projects you’re working toward?
I spent the holidays seeing family as much as I could and then I recorded in, like, minus-20-degree weather because I am going to turn “Tear Down the Statues” into a music video. It’s gonna happen! I figured out the bassline, I figured out the strumming, and I’ve got a new midi controller to figure out some beautiful sounds. I’ve got someone who’s going to train me up on how to record that. In the summer, I’m hoping to get people together to do some filming, and go around putting ropes on statues that we don’t particularly like and pretend that we’re pulling them down. I’m hoping that we’ll have this video of Montreal and its beautiful summer weather that contrasts with this icy frostiness from my hometown in the winter. So that’s my ambition! Let’s keep our fingers crossed. You want to come with me and tear down some statues?
Haha, I’m always happy to do a bit of background acting! That’s super exciting. Thank you for chatting with me. It’s always good to hear about your poetry. You’ve done so much for the community and so much for Throw! poetry and I’m excited to see what you do next!
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.