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Oni At Dusty Owl

Zio and Oni
Oni the Haitian Sensation with Dusty Owl workshop organizer Sean Zio.

She gave a workshop May 31. Her talk was 2/3 autobiography. She’s had a varied life from qualifying for the Olympic handball team to touring with varsity badminton to becoming a single mom in a dodgy relationship in a impoverished part of LA. She has a degree in multimedia, has worked for the CBC as a host, was a headliner at the Austin International Poetry Festival, has toured Australia as a slam poet, has taught in France and Belgium and mostly works to educate kids on sexual health (birth control options, safe sex and HIV awareness) and get them excited about the concept of poetry.

She said preparation is the majority of the game. 80% of doing a good job is research and preparation and 20% is execution. (80/20 has been long a magic ratio) Being in the right place and time helps i.e. to be ready to step up “with slam spirit” and jump in with both feet.

Part of the importance of poetry is to be an ethnographer recording history to reflect on, research and curate the roots of community, such as when she was invited to write a commemorative poem for the anniversary of Dundonald Park and wrote about its place in Cold War History.

Part of the importance of poetry is expression, and when pushed, push back against stereotypes of “intellectual rednecks” who say poetry (or intelligence, culture, grammar or whatever) must be exclusively in x or y particular shape. Diversity enriches us.

Another of the importance of poetry is to make a positive, persuasive impact on what is your societal responsibility as a watchdog.

Part of her programming background may inform how she sees poetry, in part, in terms of numbers and geometry. For example, Shakespeare’s iambic pentameters are two pentagons. Alexandrines are 12×12, an area of 144 sound pieces. The shape of poetry is quite literal. The roses are red verse is memorable because of the rhyme, yes, but also because of the geometry of being a 4 + 4 + 4 + 4 grid of sound with an aesthetically pleasing square symmetry.

Interestingly when talking of slam history she clarified that slam poetry is not Poetry. Spoken word form is poetry, but slam is using the tools of spoken word in a competitive sport. Slam started in Chicago in 1986 and in germany where it is still a leader of the sport in 1989.

She said that to present poetry you need to practice prosody skills. Elocution is an exercise of cadence, diction and enunciation, and like dance, it’s about doing isolations, in this case the diaphragm and vocal chords. She assured that just because you don’t know the language doesn’t man you can’t speak the language and the impact on the mind is sound. Practice tongue twisters such as Natacha n’attacha pas son chat Pacha qui s’échappa. Cela fâcha Sacha qui chassa Natacha? at various speeds for dexterity. It can train the tongue and like any mental exercise keep you alert and fit.

Her current project is to do another National Film Board documentary and the next project is to explore cultural diversity and personal development through a Chalmers Arts fellowship grant to document the royal family of South Africa.

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