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Shane Koyczan: Slam Champ

Poet from Penticton has mastered the mic at writers festivals around the world

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What: He Read/She Read Battle of the Book Clubs, followed by Shane Koyczan and Haiku Idol.

Where: Players Chophouse, Creekside

When: Sept. 12, 7:30 - 10:30 p.m.

Tickets $25. Available through www.theviciouscircle.ca

How does a nerd from Penticton blow the doors off the USA Individual National Poetry Slam to become the first poet from outside the U.S. to win the championship? I caught up with Shane Koyczan this week to find out the answer to that, as well to discover what he plans for his show in Whistler next week.

"At school I got bumped into drama because the drafting class was full. It was an alphabetical thing," Koyczan says. "I was not one of the cool people. I'd go home and write out responses to questions people might potentially ask me. Weird answers to keep them at bay. But it backfired on me. People started saying, 'You've gotta go talk to that Shane, man. He's weird .'"

Koyczan has been described as having the heightened emotional state of an evangelical preacher paired with the quick wit of a stand-up comic. Koyczan himself says, "It takes a certain level of emotional nudity. You have to be willing to expose your own weaknesses or anxieties; that's the only way people can make a true connection with you... be vulnerable... be true... it's worth it."

After high school Koyczan attended Okanagan University College in Penticton, where his creative writing instructor steered him away from fiction and into poetry. Soon Koyczan and a friend started a poetry night at the local Hog's Breath Café.

Koyczan then moved to Vancouver where he developed his passionately reckless style at open mic nights and poetry competitions. He practiced at home on an unbiased audience. "I'd perform for the cat, and if the cat's eyes got wider, I knew I was doing something crazy. Or if it started looking really scared, I thought, 'Okay, I'll back it down a bit.'"

Koyczan has gone on to win numerous awards including the CBC Radio Poetry Face-Off, as well as standing ovations at writers festivals, music concerts and slam face-offs in Europe, Australia, New Zealand and throughout North America. He is considered one of the world's top spoken word virtuosos. Koyczan is a poetry rock star.

But he's a hard-working star.

"I write every day. Anywhere from five minutes to five hours to get something good that I can use." Koyczan says he writes the ending first and works backwards from there; everything flows into the ending.

His first book, Visiting Hours, now in its fifth printing, is one of the most successful Canadian poetry books in recent history.

When I asked Shane how he memorizes so many poems for his riveting stage performances, he said, "Come to my performance on Saturday night; I've got a poem about that too!"

Koyczan currently tours over 200 shows per year, plus several dozen sold-out shows with his two larger spoken word-musical groups TOFU (The University of Fun), and Shane Koyczan and The Short Story Long. Does he have time for anything else?

"Swimming."

I assumed he meant the warm lakes around Penticton, but he said, "Sure, but mostly pools. I like the solitude in pools."

Which is probably all the solitude he gets. So it's a good thing he claims one of his chief sources of creative inspiration is talking to complete strangers. Come on out to Saturday's event, say hi, and share a little inspiration with Shane Koyczan.

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