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The power of voice 

Halifax's Poet Laureate knows one city needs many voices.


The voice is I and I. I and I meaning the voice is in us all to equalize. To harmonize. To totalize. The voice is alive. Word is Bond says the voice so speak with righteousness.

The voice is dub, soul, reggae, hip-hop, drum and synthesizer. The voice is Word Sound Power swag and style. The voice is too wide to occupy a single poet; the poet is just disciple.

The voice is the little girl at the workshop who starts off hostile. In her first poem she makes fun of me trying to get a rise. When I say I like her rhyme, her second poem she writes my mom just sits around on welfare and I'm scared of having her life. In her third poem she writes, today I realized I have a talent for poetry inside.

The voice is reading Malcolm X over the prison phone at Burnside. It is the poetry circle before lockdown and the collect call at 5:30 to the radio show with poems providing a lifeline. I was held in solitary they say and poetry was my only sign. Can poetry liberate us? they challenge. Can it free the mind?

The voice is in the dedication of the garden at the Refugee Clinic to Habtom who committed suicide when his claim was denied. Can poetry memorialize? they ask me. Can poetry shine a light?

The voice is the former foster child who shows me her files and asks how poetry can help her find some way to make the past materialize. Can poetry heal? she asks me. Is poetry a guide?

The voice is the teens who shyly stand by in classrooms just to say hi. Do you write? I ask them. Yes they say, I would like to speak but I'm scared people will laugh if I try. Can poetry give us courage? they wonder. Will it make me signify?

The voice is the organizer trying to save the school from being gentrified.

The survivor calling out against sexual violence, the sex workers rallying for rights. They urge me, will poetry help us outcry?

The voice is Arabic, Farsi, Kreyole, Hausa and Twi. Poetry is how we identify.

The voice is at Centerline Studios, in the young people who believe that they can find a way out of stereotype. It is in beats and rap and spoken word and music. They say poetry helps us survive.

The voice is Mi'kmaq warriors protecting the waters and the sacred fire. Poetry will uprise they tell us. It will justify.

The voice is the young immigrant who raps in flawless English at the Y. The voice is the vigil for those who died homeless. Can poetry dignify? they question.

The voice is the women in the transition house who hide poetry under their beds and inside dressers and when I coax it out of them they arrive with armloads of papers scrawled with poems on both sides. Can poetry help us rise? they show me. Does it get us through trials?

The voice is the community talent show fundraiser, the high school concert, Africa Night. Can poetry bring us together? they ask me. Will poetry unify?

The voice is the angry stories, the sad stories, the stories of resilience, the confessions and the cries. The voice is gathered at the library, in community centres, in the pews and aisles. The voice is book awards and historical preservation societies. I and I have been present when the voice inspires, in private or at the mic.

The voice is vital. It cannot be stifled. It most urgently possesses those without title, those with no venue for recital. This poem is just a sample, just a trifle of the tidal wave of voices I have heard testify. How can I describe how many voices I have witnessed prophesying their truths?

The poet is not the voice of the city, just the disciple. The voice is I and I.

click to enlarge opinion_voice1-2.jpg

El Jones is a spoken word activist and teacher, and HRM Poet Laureate.

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