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Poetry's rock star comes to Whitehorse

Shane Koyczan is a poet with groupies. Some of them have flown from Europe to Toronto, just to catch a show. And one man tattooed Koyczan's poetry on his leg. "But I'm not living like a rock star," said the BC poet.

Shane Koyczan is a poet with groupies.

Some of them have flown from Europe to Toronto, just to catch a show.

And one man tattooed Koyczan’s poetry on his leg.

“But I’m not living like a rock star,” said the BC poet.

“After shows, I don’t disappear into my trailer.”

Koyczan didn’t mean to be a poet.

In fact, he wanted to be a professional wrestler - or a politician.

“Poetry just never seemed like something I wanted to be doing,” he said.

A political science prof in university changed that.

“He liked my essays and suggested I try writing,” said Koyczan.

Inspired by his horrible experiences in high school, where he “had no social skills,” writing became Koyczan’s “emotional therapy.”

“I wanted people to get to know me more,” he said.

Then Koyczan branched out.

He started watching others and writing about their experiences.

“When people don’t know they’re being observed, they’re at their most beautiful,” he said.

“I enjoy watching people in their most natural state.”

His poems soon proved to be emotional therapy for his listeners, as well.

Some of Koyczan’s pieces are about cancer, or MS and “people take a lot out of them,” he said.

Others are about Canada - Koyczan was part of the opening ceremonies for the Vancouver Olympics in 2010 - or about cows, or his mom.

He writes about everything and anything:

6:59 AM

by Shane Koyczan

I’ve been told

that people in the army

do more by 7:00 am

than I do

in an entire day

but if I wake

at 6:59 am

and turn to you

to trace the outline of your lips

with mine

I will have done enough

and killed no one

in the process.

And he performs his words.

Koyczan’s shows are not your average literary reading.

“It’s not academic, where I just sit and read my work,” he said.

(Although, Koyczan loved sitting and listening to the librarian read to his class in grade school. “There was something beautiful about that,” he said.)

Koyczan engages his audience. “We connect in a way, there’s a performance aspect,” he said.

“My shows are more give and take.”

He’s “not filling up stadiums,” but Koyczan makes enough to get by and has been supporting himself with poetry for the past decade.

For this, he credits his fans.

“A lot of what I do is just word of mouth,” he said.

“It’s some underground cultural thing - my fans really are the best.”

Sometimes Koyczan looks back on what could have been a political career.

But with politics “you’re inside the system,” he said.

“You’re just getting favour for favours.”

As a writer, he’s “free.”

And he can still be political.

Koyczan is sick of all the bad news he’s inundated with through mass media.

“People are living in fear,” he said.

“We are so guarded; we’re experts at building walls.”

On public transit, Koyczan watches people plugged in and isolated.

“And I want to allow people to get to know each other,” he said.

“We shouldn’t be afraid of each other.”

Koyczan gets fan mail everyday, mostly from listeners saying, thank you.

Touring the world, sharing his work, Koyczan’s biggest risk is burnout.

He’s been on the road since May, and won’t get a breather until the end of the summer.

But it’s worth it, he said.

“Being true is worth it.”

Koyczan was at the Dawson City Music Festival a few years ago and is back for a show at the Yukon Arts Centre on Friday, March 4.

He can’t really describe what happens at those shows, but guarantees, “It doesn’t taste like chicken.”

Contact Genesee Keevil at