Friday, March 3, 2017

When whisky and poetry slam!

My wish for 2017 was that I would "do" more. I made a promise to myself that I would give back as much as was given to me, that I would expand my life experiences until I felt I was bursting because I would say yes, without hesitations, to the opportunities being presented to me.

In January I donated my time to a great fundraiser in my hometown called: Bolder taste for Boulder Art. It was quite the experience to link how a sculpture has the same humble beginning as a grain of barley. In the end both end up creating masterpieces for people to enjoy.

February came along and the Regional Library approached me to do a lecture series about whisky. No actual tastings involved, just a series of information sessions about all things whisky. I thought to myself, I can't imagine people would want to come to a whisky talk without whisky being poured? But... I was wrong. Completely wrong! It was the largest turnout the library had ever seen with their speakers series and I truly loved it.

Here we are March and my friend Matt Jones and I were scheduled to be presenting at the Nova Scotia Festival of Whisky from March 1-4. One late evening as we were talking about upcoming events and what our itineraries were like for the next couple of months and he mentioned that a few friends were getting together for an evening of Spoken Word, graciously sponsored by Maker's Mark Bourbon. YES, without hesitations. There we are Thursday March the 2nd at the Company House in Halifax Nova Scotia. Intimate setting, candles, tables and plenty of other people there to listen and experience poetry. Sounds a bit floopy I'm sure to most, because I mean really how does whisky even remotely fit when it comes to poetry. To that I would say you would be mostly surprised how one really did go hand in hand with the other.

Let's start with the definition of Slam Poetry: An intense blend of written verse mixed with stage performance - and a stop watch.  There are no props, no music, just a speaker on stage with their own voice and words. There is authenticity, rawness and it takes time to not only compose each piece but to perfect it.  Sound familiar to whisky?  I think so in many ways...

The evening began with a young, somewhat shy but humorous man by the name of Andre Fenton. Wise beyond his 21 years of age. He was one of only two participants from the east coast to attend the National Slam Poetry Competition in Vancouver in 2016. Andre, stepped up to the microphone, apologetic in nature as he seemed to stumble on his own words to introduce himself. "I wrote a book", he almost whispered, "I'll be launching in March 31st across the street at Alteregos CafĂ© on Gottingen Street". I couldn't help but smile as I thought to myself, ahhhh we are starting with an up-and-comer who is still quite green behind the ears. Then... he began. The clarity of his speech, the cadence of his language and the movement of his body so in sync with the spoken words. I found myself leaning in, listening more than just intently, listening with purpose. This was not a young man of 21 years of age standing before us under a bright spotlight on a dark little stage at the Company House. This was an old soul who had lived, and seen and experienced life more intensely than most of us could ever imagine.

Mr. Andre Fenton - East coast poet
His book, Ode to Teen Angst, is a 43 page compilation of 10 of his favourite poems. My favourite of the evening was clearly the letter to his 10 year old self. Witty, dirty, truths about growing up, truth about depression, being bullied, being scared about the changes to come but with the advice to always hang on, dream big and trust that it's all good.

I read in the interview where he stated: "Some of the topics in the book aren't really relatable to everybody". I would tend to disagree somewhat. He talks about the life in the "customer service" world, he talks about life lessons, love and mental illness. "Like I'm running through a grass field with the girl of my dreams or like I'm looking through at the stars trying to solve all the galaxy's mysteries".  His poem Unapologetic is an eye opening piece about racism. Something I have never experienced in my 50 years of my life. I will never understand how that feels or looks like but through Andre's eyes. I see the un-relatable side of his teenage years versus mine...

Andre's book is available by contacting him at

The $15 is not only worth every loonie, it's like the best little book a teenager should read, in my opinion. Nothing speaks louder than the words of someone else going through the exact same thing as yourself.  Thank you Andre for putting those words to paper and allowing the world to look in and share those moments with you.

Up next Martha, "just" Martha... no last name. The little wisp of a long haired woman with nothing more than her cell phone in hand. An ode to a grandmother who had recently passed away. Her grief, love and respect poured out for all to see. Touching, special and meaningful to many in the room as I watched how they nodded when certain words tugged at their own heart strings. How stupid we are in our youth to not realize the importance of our elders. It is all too late that we see how they shape and mould us into the adults we become. Her poem about marriage is where I found myself nodding incessantly, smiling under my breathe. How lost a woman can feel when she sees friends around her marrying, meanwhile deep inside she thinks but what about "me"... Who is this me, and why do I have to rush into what society sees as the only goal for making it in the world. A husband... to have and to hold. Why, can't I simply have and hold myself until I know what it is I want? Wouldn't that make me a better partner in the end? Martha stood 7 feet tall on that stage and I, gracefully sat in her shadow and basked in the words. Again, baffled by the depth and grace that were beyond her years.

And then Mona Mousa steps up to the stage and the electricity is felt through the crowd as she unleashes immediately a foray of words from the hip and soul. Clever, polished and melodious. I watched as the body language was one with the spoken words. Ohhhh she's a veteran at this, and you can tell she loves how standing that the microphone transforms Mona to "The Poet Mona". She runs the gamut from powerful, sassy to vulnerable. Speaking words of frustration, defiance and then love. No pauses, no frills... Just a woman, her life and her ability to share those awkward and sometimes scary moments that all of us feel but would never have the guts to share, especially on stage in front of strangers.

"Picture this: There is a man that plays the piano like it's his job. To remind people that music is brutal and real love will make you sick. This man plays the piano like it's his lover."

"Kentucky: It's 3:27am in Lexington Kentucky, the night that taught me that I am not everything I know, she is 67 headed to a city made of towering skyscrapers for the first time. She said to me: She can't blame her because ain't nothing changes in Kentucky but the weather. She looked at me and said: Darling, I can tell you're hurting because no stranger to the south comes to Kentucky unless they have a bourbon craving, broken heart. Honey you can decorate abstinence whatever you want but it's still going to be obvious what's missing."

Her entire spoken album entitled Bourbon Darling is available online at

Mona.. Spoken word poet, motivational speaker, comedian, heavily active in community, advocate for the empowerment of youth and whose mission in life is simple: Education and tolerance, no exceptions. Brilliant!

As the night wound to an end I came to a few quick conclusions about it all...  Poetry is not defined by age, nationality or content. What appears before you is nothing more than the outer shell and it's not until you let it open up that you discover the contents and the meaning inside. Some poets come in small unassuming packages where others are bold and exciting. There are some that you immediately are drawn to and you think to yourself, now... that was special.

I think you can see where I'm going with this. It's super easy to link my evening back to whisky for almost all the same reasons. Whisky, like poetry is art in most cases and it speaks to my heart and soul. I, once again, find myself speechless in how whisky has changed my life for the good, the best years of my life. I am, truly blessed.

At the end of the night, I went over and introduced myself to Andre. I didn't tell him how much his poetry touched me but I did buy his book. I have no doubt that thanks to people like Mona who believe and support the next generation of artists like Andre and Martha, these young and very talented people will continue to grow, excel and become the eloquent poets of tomorrow.

Huge thanks to Maker's Mark (cue the product placement joke - that's a personal one for Mona who does this part ooooh so well! ;) as well as Matt Jones for such a great experience. It was added value to the Nova Scotia Whisky Festival that I'm attending this week in Halifax.

What's next for this Lassie... a little adventure in whisky and chocolate pairings! Cue the moaning and giggles, errrr that was from me, not the people in the class (hehehe!)


The enlightened Lassie