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Poetry is having a moment in Calgary. I set out to discover why

We’re a dozen young adults sitting in a small circle in a classroom on a rainy winter Saturday in Calgary — focused, attentive, full of questions — and for what? Poetry. 

Poetry seems to be having a moment in Calgary, with workshops, readings and poetry slams happening several times a month. It pops up when I check Eventbrite (an event ticketing website), in my social media feeds and in hallway conversations at university. 

It seems to offer something for my generation, the Gen Zs, something we’re longing for. Something timeless that speaks to a loneliness, and need for connection. So I came to this workshop at The Alcove not sure what to expect but hoping to find out more.

I looked around the room.

The students came from many different ethnic backgrounds and most were in their 20s. We settled into couches, in a vacant storefront along Stephen Avenue Walk converted into a homey space with rugs and floor lamps.

Then the facilitator, Adetola Adedipe, gave us the assignment: write a poem on something we haven’t been able to communicate.

What? It caught me off guard. It felt like jumping into deep water — the demand to be immediately open and vulnerable. There are struggles I talk about only with friends, but to put the heart of it into just a few words to share with strangers was terrifying.

I pulled out my laptop. I wrote. I hit delete. I tried again. I hit delete.  

Adedipe also goes by Tola or her poet name, AloT of Poetry. She publishes, performs and hosts regular workshops around Calgary and through the Alberta University of the Arts. She said her first time performing her poetry live was in 2015, shortly after she moved to Calgary from South Africa as a 19-year-old.

A woman in a colourful sweater stands near a whiteboard.
Adetola Adedipe, who goes by the poet name AloT of Poetry, runs a workshop for a high school class, one the regular series of poetry classes she gives across Calgary. (Submitted by Adetola Adedipe)

For her, that vulnerability is actually what she loves about poetry. When she performs live, her favourite part is the reaction afterward — how the audience members come talk with her and connect in a deep way after hearing the poetry and lived experience she shares. 

“I kind of become a different person when I’m performing my poetry. I’ve had time to sit with it and go over the words I want to say, and it’s as clear and representative of who I am,” she said.

Adedipe said that at its core, poetry is about expression.

“It’s to understand, and be understood. Having poetry is a different way to do that. But it feels very effective. Because poetry is — to its core, it’s very vulnerable. It’s very expressive.”

Is vulnerability and connection the draw? I set out to find other young poets to speak with.

Bethel Afework is another leader in Calgary’s poetry scene. She’s 26 and is co-founder of The Alcove, founder of Raw Voices — a local monthly spoken word, comedy and music show — and is also a spoken word poet herself. 

Raw Voices started in dingy bars nearly eight years ago and now has a permanent home downtown. Afework says she’s also seen high school poetry slams grow in popularity, watched poetry return as a part of the hip hop or rap scene, and meets lots of new young poets when she attends the monthly Calgary Poetry Slam at Dickens Pub

People sit on couches listening to a person standing at the front of the room and reading from a small notebook.
Young adults gather for Raw Voices at The Alcove Centre for the Arts in downtown Calgary. (Submitted by Bethel Afework)

She said poetry gives her confidence.

“The power of poetry, and specifically spoken word, is the ability to find and have confidence in my voice and speaking,” she said, when we talked online. “I definitely had trouble with confrontation. I still do sometimes, but I … speak my mind a lot more. Spoken word definitely played a role in me finding my voice.”

But poetry doesn’t have to be public to be powerful.

Levi Zigza is a 27-year-old associate software engineer who was born in North Sudan and writes poetry in his spare time.
He has never performed publicly but sought me out when he heard about this piece. Zigza said for him, poetry is a way to show the beauty of life and to express emotion, especially given that society so often teaches men to downplay emotions.

It’s also a way of self-reflection, he said. A way to look back at an experience and figure out: “What does this experience mean to me? And how has it impacted me?” 

A man wearing a tuque looks at the camera.
Levi Zigza is a software engineer who writes poetry in his spare time. (Submitted by Levi Zigza)

“It’s just something that just feels very universal. Those moments when I’m sad, a poem makes me feel connected to that person (who wrote it). It’s OK, somebody else went through this experience. They made their way through and maybe I can, too.” 

Sharing emotions connects the author to the listener. Perhaps that’s why people feel poetry is timeless, because it’s based on emotions and letting our lived experience resonate with one another — like a tether that connects us.

The last person I reached out to in this quest to understand the appeal of poetry was Tsion Berie. She’s a 24-year-old artist born in Ethiopia and a graduate student in community health science. 

She was also a recent artist in residence at the Women’s Centre of Calgary, where she taught students to write poetry on canvas and then add paint in colours of sentimental value.

She reads poetry in her mother tongue, Amharic, and says poetry helps her navigate different identities.

She says she watches peers and community members struggle with conflicting identities, becoming disconnected from their ethnic heritage to the point where they feel culture shock going back to Africa. But poetry can help make sense of that, she said.

A woman smiles at the camera.
Tsion Berie is a poet and was the artist in residence at the Women’s Centre of Calgary. (Submitted by Tsion Berie)

She said it’s too bad the arts can be under-represented within the African diaspora community because of a stereotype that people who are creatives don’t make much money or live fulfilling lives.

“Art is so beautiful and it’s so transformative, especially in this day and age. It also serves as a sense of connection to the past and culture — especially (for those) living in the West.”

Back at The Alcove workshop, I tried to let myself be vulnerable as I struggled to write my poem.

I had a valued friendship end a few months before. But how did I really feel? Could I figure that out and bear my soul for the world to see?

I started my poem again and the words began to flow. 

I outgrew you. 

I outgrew the baseless conversations and your gossip. I outgrew the constant shaming and your teasing. I outgrew your spineless comments. I outgrew them all….

It was cathartic. But I was nervous. It became personal so quickly. 

After 30 minutes, we read them out loud. I didn’t go first, but I did it. And within our group, a sense of closeness grew. Soon we were exchanging social media handles and making plans to take the workshop together again.  

It didn’t surprise Adedipe. 

“Poetry is a different way to communicate … a different way of understanding and being understood, which I feel is what all of us humans in the end want,” she said.

We choose when and how to share our stories, and if we never share our stories, no one will understand us, she said. Finding the courage to share these pieces of ourselves is the true beauty of poetry.

The thought of writing more poetry still terrifies me. But the connections sparked by even my small effort were powerful. And maybe that’s why people in my generation are in love with it.


I outgrew you. 

 I outgrew the baseless conversations and your gossip. I outgrew the constant shaming and your teasing. I outgrew your spineless comments. I outgrew them all. 

I outgrew you.

I outgrew the hatred and your resentment. I outgrew the jealousy and your pain. I outgrew the outbursts and your silencing. I outgrew them all. 

I outgrew you.

I outgrew the disloyalty and your damage. I outgrew the thought of you leaving me, I outgrew the fear of losing you. I outgrew them all. 

outgrew you. 
And I outgrew me too

A graphic showing soccer players and women drinking coffee.
Sharing Knowledge: An invitation to all local East African communities. (Lianne Sabourin/CBC)

Last fall, CBC Calgary launched a new community project with local East African community members. This included a workshop to help young adults to tell stories of importance to their community and mentorship from CBC producer Elise Stolte. 

Check out other reporting sparked by this partnership.

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