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by Wakefield Brewster

Bringing spoken word poetry to the page has historically been seen as controversial, since academia has tended to dictate the ways that poetry can be received and read, and spoken word consistently continues to challenge these rules. Luckily for us, Wakefield Brewster shares his spoken word poetry in WakeWord, a print and audio collection that details his personal experiences as a storyteller and poet with inspiring defiance.

In the author’s note that opens the book, Calgary’s poet laureate positions himself as “a Performer of Experience” and guides us to receive his words: “WakeWord is a poetic journey of self-exploration, and explanation. After a difficult time in the educational systems; after over three decades of alcoholism and addictions; after a lifetime of mental illnesses; I managed making it to sobriety…. While I cannot sing a tune, my voice possesses movement, influenced by melody. While there is no audible metronome, my lyrical meter is polyrhythmic. I am by profession and culture a Rapper, and it influences my flow.”

The opening poem, “I can,” attests to his snappy subversions and affirmations that speak to empowerment:

Comfortably confidently cruise into classrooms
Where I was coerced to create
A captured cornered mental state
So I could clearly create
A way to hate my own mind
By my educators


Were edu-haters
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Stab a psyche with a simile
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Ail the English alphabet with an oral



Brewster’s words are lyrical and emboldening. They remind us that institutions of learning can be disciplinary and standardizing when they ignore forms of knowledge that may be different – harsh truths which continue to come to light in the fields of spoken word, publishing, academia, and beyond.

In Toward an Anti-Racist Poetics (the 2024 addition to Centre for Literatures in Canada at the University of Alberta Kreisel Lecture series), writer Wayde Compton comments on the loneliness of poets of colour in academia. He notes that both the formal academy and the avant-garde scene in Vancouver didn’t have much to share with him in terms of the “Black-identified aesthetics” he was interested in, and that he “felt like an autodidact” in both his scholarly and creative work. In the poem “Blacklit,” Brewster echoes Compton with charged humour and wit: “When a Brother gets a hold of technology / It’s microphone wreckology…. Up and mixed artistic with linguistic / And I slung a hot rock / Like Basquiat / When he brought black thought.”

Brewster touches on many topics, such as addiction, recovery, freedom, and Black lineages of influence; whatever the subject may be, WakeWord is characterized by an unshakeable faith in poetry. It is a book that teaches us how to read anew, because Brewster’s words dance in the language of poetry as a calling, poetry as purpose, poetry as flow, poetry as fire.


Reviewer: Shazia Hafiz Ramji

Publisher: Frontenac House


Price: $19.95

Page Count: 116 pp

Format: Paper

ISBN: 978-1-989466-72-8

Released: April

Issue Date: June 2024

Categories: Poetry, Reviews