Use poetry for political engagement – curious arts

Photo by Donna McKinnon.

Can we work with words differently, so that the world can be a better place?

Christine Stewart

Christine Stewart

Christine Stewart is a co-founder of Writers Revolution in Place (WRIP) whose participants include members of the Boyle Community, the Edmonton Learning Centre Literacy Association, and students from the Write 494 class this Winter 2015 term.

“I am interested in the idea of the poetic as a kind of political way of engagement,” says Christine Stewart, Associate Professor in English and Film Studies.

Recently, the WRIP held an event as part of the Edmonton Poetry Festival at the Stanley Milner Library, which was the culmination and celebration of this year’s research project – what health means in the 21st century.

Here are some tips gleaned from the collective about working with words and poetry for political engagement:

1) Organize yourself

The WRIP is an ever-evolving creative collective, one that strenuously avoids top-down direction. They care about creating an open and inclusive space where people can come together and think – where ideas are allowed to emerge organically, out of examination and discussion.

“It’s not me teaching,” says Stewart. “Everyone is coming in and working around the table with their own genius, their own political and intellectual acumen, their own creativity.”

Influence, without imposition.

2) Feed them and they will come

Breaking bread, sharing a meal – these are gestures of welcoming and communion that, for the WRIP, are non-negotiable.

“We are very food-centred,” laughs Stewart. “We always eat. That’s absolutely crucial!”

3) Avoid bubbles

Seek out a range of voices and experiences.

“It’s not necessarily about either cooperation or consensus, because consensus requires certain types of personalities to be persuasive, which has its own blocks, and its own ways of stagnating people out of the picture. Bridging the isolated pockets of community in Edmonton is central to the work of the WRIP.”

Poet Alice Major talks to students involved in the creative collective Writers Revolution in Place.

Poet Alice Major talks to students involved in the creative collective Writers Revolution in Place.

4) Look to the community for creative inspiration

Involved in a number of research projects since its inception four years ago, the WRIP participated in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission event in 2013/14, holding writing workshops, field trips, and attending TRC sessions. Because many of the issues identified by the Commission related to health, the collective decided to make this the focus of their next research project – and then reached out to a number of community organizations for their input.

5) Expect (and embrace) the unexpected

“Folks from all walks of life have everything to contribute,” says Stewart.

The WRIP’s commitment to diverse voices is exemplified in the variety of poetic expression at their event, which included displays, presentations, spoken word performances, poetry readings, and of course, food, conversation and fellowship.

“It’s about creating connections that allow conversations to happen,” says Stewart.

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