Ottawa's Festival of Ideas Since 1997

Raise It!

With his head and hands planted delicately on the stage, legs dangling above him,  Ian Keteku  imagined aloud to his audience a world viewed differently: “I wonder if stars in the sky ever wish on a shooting human Or what butterflies get in their stomach when they are scared?”


Dubbed fittingly as “yogatry” - a combination of yoga and poetry - Keteku performed  Right Side Up , one of three original poems that the audience in attendance had the pleasure of absorbing from the spoken word artist at the auditorium of Knox Presbyterian Church.

This event was equally enlightening and light-hearted in showcasing a burgeoning artform and the acclaimed talents of Keteku, a local artist whose relentless passion in mashing together wit, words, and syncopated cadences have made him one of the most well respected orators in the genre.


Keteku acknowledged that although writing was not an outlet that had come natural to him, it was an outlet in which he had always gravitated towards to express himself, and a skill that he started to hone at an early age. As a child, his parents had assigned him to write essays summarizing what he watched on television(!). Later embracing the hip-hop scene and Emcee Battles where lyrical artists attempt to superimpose themselves against their opponents - an arena that Keteku described as “a lot of fun” - hip-hop provided a backdrop for Keteku to pursue slam poetry. It is a forum that greatly resonated with Keteku, and one in which he discovered a true passion.


A Slam is a competition for  spoken word  poetry. It is a platform, Keteku explained, that allows for “diverse voices” and a “spectrum of experiences” to be shared among people. It draws from a variety of influences in the performing arts and is generally edifying in its intent. Host  Kevin Matthews  added that what is also unique to Slam is the integral and intimate role that the audience plays in evaluating and judging the performers.


Matthews and Keteku discussed the many arenas of spoken word and the versatility of the medium in finding creative synergy with other formats such as dance, video, and social media. Keteku attributed the broad appeal of spoken word to the three dimensional experience of the audience in hearing, seeing, and feeling the emotion of the performer, which transcends all language, cultural, and demographic differences; it is the human connection.


In a culture where words have been diminished out of misuse and convenience, spoken word “brings back the power of words”, Keteku mused. Matthews also proposed that it is through the vocalization of ideas and human expression that new possibilities can be injected into this world. As a preface to performing his composition,  Pick Me , Keteku shared with the audience a conviction and desire to use the power of words in a meaningful way that would give a voice to those in the world who cannot freely speak words of their own.


Spoken word is an oral tradition that has been deeply woven throughout the history of human culture. Through Slam and a wide variety of media, spoken word has grown out of the perception that poetry is not and should not be merely an antiquated or exotic form of literature whose enjoyment is limited to small nibbles in the classroom. Rather it can be a vibrant and relevant form of art that can provoke critical commentary on social issues, and even arouse lamentations for old technological flames passed by, as Keteku demonstrated to the audience with  Laptop Love . 


As the event wrapped up, there was a sense of excitement rippling through the crowd, which ranged in age from grade six students to an audience member who was on the verge of turning eighty years old, as they left to digest the words and riveting performance of Keteku who provided inspiration for us to explore the creative possibilities of using the bits and rudders of our words to speak truth and value into this world and into each other’s lives.