Andre Fenton is selling his self-published book of poems, Ode to Teen Angst, as fast as he can print them.
"I always joke around about selling this book like a mixtape, it's not really in stores yet, so I just carry it with me," he says. Fenton sells copies from his bag to people who flag him down for a copy—last month at his book launch at Alteregos he sold out all the copies he had brought. The second printing went too. Within the first week of his launch, he sold 129 copies. Now there's a third printing in the works. Seriously, get this book.
Fenton is young, only 21, but has been writing and performing poetry since a teacher showed him Def Jam Poetry in class when he was in high school. "I took Black literature and for the poetry unit my teacher pushed in the TV," he says, "and we watched Def Poetry Jam for a month and it was so inspiring, I really wanted to try it."
Poet El Jones heard a poem of Fenton's and encouraged him to compete in a poetry jam. "I didn't know what that was, but I said OK," he says. "We went to Dartmouth High and it was finals night to send poets to the Canadian Festival of Spoken Word—the top five went." His first time competing, Fenton placed third.
Fenton talks about "instilling resilience" and why it's important for him to perform the more difficult personal pieces about mental illness, "to make people feel like they aren't walking that path alone."
This collection of poems in particular, as the title may suggest, is about that period of time where we're all forged in the self-absorbed emo fire—the teenage years. The poems deal with race: "the experience of going through adolescence as a person of colour and some of the differences between the experiences of people of colour and the average young adult novel. I loved reading them but they didn't represent me. I got tired of reading other people's stories." And Fenton's "A Letter To My 10 Year Old Self" is "a warning of everything is going to happen, about making the jump from anarchy of adolescence to the adjustment of adulthood," he says. "There's going to be a lot of hectic stuff in between but also a lot of good stuff.
"I think of" adolescence, he says, "as how a bird learns to fly—they're just pushed out of the tree."