El Jones and Ian Keteku filled STU’s Kinsella auditorium with Black empowerment and artistic agency on Feb. 7.
El Jones is a professor, poet and activist living in Halifax and teaching at Mount St. Vincent University. Jones, the Poet Laureate for Halifax from 2013 to 2015, has been recognized nationally as a two-time National Spoken Word Champion and is renowned across Canada for her work. Jones mainly focuses on social justice issues ranging from feminism, prison-abolition, decolonization and the racist forces shaping the Black experience in Canada.
Ian Keteku is a poet, musician and freelance journalist of Ghanaian heritage raised in Calgary. Keteku won the World Slam Poetry Championship in France in 2010 and has done freelance journalism for publications like the Calgary Herald, Edmonton Journal, CBC, the Ottawa Citizen, Toronto Star and the Globe and Mail. Keteku takes critical aim with his poetry, and on the night of Feb. 7 he chose poems which were critical of Black oppression and dominant white culture in Canada.
St. Thomas student Husoni Raymond and professor Trevor McMorris Tate introduced the evening of poetry. Raymond emphasized the importance of student, faculty and community action on campus to fight racism, as “everyone has the power to be the change on campus and in the community.”
Tate spoke to the necessity for Black individuals to reclaim their agency by reclaiming their voice. “So many of us in the [African] diaspora feel that we do not have a voice,” Tate said.
Jones was the first poet to take the stage Thursday night, beginning the evening with her poem Kings and Queens.
“This is for all my queens in Queens and all my kings in Kingston raising a baby in Babylon,” said Jones. The poem details Black people’s struggle for political, economic and social freedom under the history of white oppression.
Jones made a point to critique Black individuals who don’t actively participate in discourse and action, speaking to the larger Black community with lines like, “We take our government check but we don’t check our government.” While the poem is a commentary on conflict within the Black community, it also speaks to a greater system and history of oppressive white rule.
Jones’ poem entitled Canada is So Polite addressed Canadian stereotypes and the Canadian norms of nicety and passivism. A particularly poignant line reads, “We say ‘zed’ not ‘zee’, but if you say ‘racism’ we say ‘zzzzzzzzz’ [mimicking sleeping and ignorance].”
Keteku focused on similar subjects with his poetry, but changed up his style with important yet comedic commentary between each of his poems. Keteku’s poem K takes on the world’s favourite weapon, the AK-47, by transforming it into a beautiful Russian princess that comes to Africa and seduces men into violence and conflict.
The night of poetry ended with a question and answer session with Jones and Keteku, during which they covered topics ranging from racist microaggressions in social situations to the importance of emotion and “Black brilliance” in poetry that resists racism.