On Saturday February 25th, Catalinas in downtown Peterborough came alive with a special Black History Month-inspired event hosted by the Peterborough Slam Poetry Collective (PPSC). The event was aptly entitled “Soul Food”, with our host simply known as E.J. welcoming performers of all different styles up on the stage by way of an open-mic sign up sheet. For a low admission of only $10, audience members filled the space to see performers do their thing. There was stand up comedy, original poetry readings, and spoken word with E.J. taking the stage to share some of her own collection of heartfelt work. John Hedderwick started off the events of the evening by introducing E.J. as well as some of the other performers, while also taking the time to pay tribute to the Indigenous territory which we occupied for the night.

Photos by Jennifer Templeton

The event was also catered by E.J. with the help of her mother and father, who were gracious enough to provide a spread of delicious fried chicken, rice, assorted salads, and cupcakes for dessert—and of course the bar was open for business as usual. After ensuring all the guests were well-fed and the audience warmed up with the first couple acts, the air was charged with anticipation to hear the main act. Two-time national slam champion and 2010 world champion Ian Keteku took the stage and wowed us with the lyrical prowess only a world champion could have.

Keteku was born in Calgary, Alberta and has been working as a poet full-time for five years. After his world victory in Paris, France in 2010, Keteku decided to submerge himself completely in the craft after opportunities began to flood in for the young aspiring poet.

“When you put your mind towards something, the universe sees that and really opens up to you,” Keteku said in when asked what made him sure that it was the right time to fully commit to his work as a poet. “I’ve always been moved by words and language; words are the biggest form of resistance, and by extension, the most powerful tool that humans have.”

In his performance on Saturday evening, Keteku showcased his versatility in poetry. While all pieces were extremely lyrical, with sharp visual aspects, some content was so serious and thought-provoking as to leave the audience basking in reverence of the wordsmith before them. With other pieces, Keteku had the audience roaring with laughter as he interacted with a few audience members and put some on the spot. After the performance, Arthur had to fight to get some face-time in with the poet amidst a wave of thankful audience members shaking hands and congratulating Keteku for the wonderful performance.

In addition to travelling the world with his poetry, Keteku also has an animated-short YouTube series entitled “Bolo the Dictator’s Son”, about a 10 year-old boy who is the son of an African dictator killed in action leaving the boy to be adopted by a white middle-class family in Canada.

When asked if mentoring or teaching in some capacity was in his future, Keteku smiled and shook his head no, but says that he always takes the opportunity to encourage everyone to find their voice despite any and all barriers, systemic, societal or otherwise and not be afraid of any ridicule, judgment, or oppression while on stage. Although Ian doesn’t see teaching in his future, the poet says that he does have a few young poets that come to him for advice, which he welcomes and is happy to help with.

If you’d like to try out your spoken word poetry and get yourself out there, the Peterborough Poetry Slam Collective hosts an open-mic poetry slam the fourth Thursday of every month at The Spill in downtown Peterborough that is open to all. Also, in October of this year, the PPSC will be hosting the National Poetry Slam Tournament featuring over 150 poets from across the nation. Special thanks for putting on this event goes out to Catalina’s for providing the space, our host E.J., Niambi Leigh, John Hedderwick, and of course E.J.’s family for supplying dinner for the crowd.