Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Profile: Danielle K.L. Grégoire

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Profile: Danielle K.L. Grégoire

On Sunday, March 30, 2014, poet, performer and organizer Danielle K.L. Grégoire and Ottawa poet, editor, publisher and provocateur Amanda Earl will each be acknowledged at the fourth annual VERSeFest poetry festival as part of the second annual Verse Ottawa Hall of Honour. As an undated spotlight on Grégoire in OttawaFocus.com said: “Crediting her decision to get onstage to the inspiration she got from other poets, Danielle hopes to pay it forward, and now she’s doing just that as she spearheads a new spoken word series, the Spoken Word Plot.”

For the decade she was engaged in Ottawa’s Slam and spoken word communities, Grégoire paid it forward ten-fold: she was well known for her lively performances, sharp wit, generous spirit and for founding and organizing an array of activities to support both new and established writers in an around the Ottawa Valley. Some of her activities include co-founding of the Ottawa Youth Poetry Slam and founding Lanark County’s own Live Poets Society (LiPS), the only rural slam poetry team in Canada to compete at the Canadian Festival of Spoken Word. While living in Ottawa and the Ottawa area, Grégoire managed to win numerous slam titles as a writer and performer but, as her bio reads, “she still considers having given away nearly one thousand copies of her CD, Optimism is a Constant Struggle, one of her crowning achievements.” As part of the press release for VERSe Ottawa’s Hall of Honour, Grégoire is described as “one of the most important names in the spoken word community in Ottawa,” and is credited for her range of community activities, as well as her writing:

She is the former Director of the Capital Poetry Collective and was the first to bring slam to our neighbouring communities like Almonte and Carleton Place. She set the stage for the boom in Spoken Word in Ottawa by helping to foster a welcoming environment, showcase a diverse array of voices and talents, and encourage a growing youth involvement in the scene. Danielle co-founded the Ottawa Youth Poetry Slam and was instrumental in getting slam poets into schools to help a new generation of poets unleash their voices.

Having appeared in Ottawa in 2004 from Vancouver, the Northern Manitoba-raised Grégoire quickly established herself in the local Slam and spoken word communities, as well as the larger literary community in Ottawa through dozens of performances. By 2007, she had moved outside Ottawa to Almonte, intending a quieter life, but instead she was “encouraged to help create one of the only rural slam poetry series in Canada.” In August, 2012, she relocated with her family from Almonte to Seattle to focus on stand-up comedy, and she has already become a force in the city, in part through founding the Comedy Womb in April, 2013, a “female focused but not exclusive comedy open mic and showcase that emphasizes the importance of gender equality and jokes and happens every Tuesday night.” A recent article in Seattle’s City Arts Online spotlights the difference she has already made since arriving, referring to Grégoire as a “sprightly Canadian with a voice like a Disney princess,” and credits her for having created “…one of the most unique and promising comedy events in the city — the weekly show packs the dimly lit space beneath Rendezvous and looks like a typical comedy night with one exception: half the spots are reserved for funny ladies.” The Seattle Vanguard is already referring to her in a list of “Seattle Comedians to Watch.” Fortunately for admirers of her work back in Ottawa, she will be appearing at VERSeFest to accept her Hall of Honour Award, accompanied by a brief performance.

rm: What first prompted your engagement with the Ottawa literary community, and what would you say you learned through your decade of Ottawa-area writing, performing, workshopping and organizing?

DKLG: I moved to Ottawa August 29th, 2004 and soon after I found out that my friend Kevin Matthews (whom I knew from a stint in Winnipeg) was the volunteer coordinator for the Canadian Festival of Spoken Word. I volunteered at the door for a full day and was consumed. I met Greg Frankson and offered to work the door at the slam he was starting after the festival ended. I didn't look back, and went from door girl, to co-director, to founder of the Lanark County rural slam series. I was inspired by every poet and organizer I met along my path. My quest to bring spoken word to everyone I encountered was insatiable. I ended up facilitating spoken word poetry workshops across Ottawa and the valley. I created a curriculum, and taught teachers how to bring spoken word into their classrooms. It was contagious. I learned that encouraging art, and helping people fall in love with poetry could be difficult but the inevitable results were addicting. Watching someone discover spoken word for the first time is nothing short of magical. Enabling someone to find their voice is what drives me, and still drives me. I learned that I am as happy organizing as I am writing and performing. I learned that Ottawa and the surrounding areas are hot beds for creativity and community and that I was fortunate to arrive just as the spark had caused a full-on poetry fire. I learned that if you build something out of a passion and a genuine love for the art, that people will be drawn to it and they will start creating their own ways of celebrating the art that you love.

rm: As someone so intricately involved with Ottawa’s slam and spoken-word communities, how would you describe them to an outsider? Who are the writers and performers you would recommend?

DKLG: I have been away from Ottawa for almost two years. I know that communities shift and change. I could only describe what it was, and that was a beautiful, friendly space in which people were welcome. I was inspired by Steve Sauve, John Akpata, Kevin Matthews, Rusty Priske, Greg Frankson, Amanda Earl, Faye Estrella, Ikenna Onyegbula, Komi Olafimihan, Ian Keteku and so very many people. Seriously, my list is extensive. I would also suggest checking out the Lanark County Live Poets Society for an incredible breadth of performing poets. Choosing to name poets in Ottawa feels strange, because the people who inspired me the most were my peers. Watching them grow and change and become more adept performers and writers was what kept me writing.

rm: Canadian poet Don McKay once compared poetry to stand-up comedy, suggesting that both forms end with a twist of expectation, presenting something familiar as entirely new, prompting an “aha” moment in poetry, and a laugh in stand-up comedy. As someone who has worked in both forms, how do you feel the two compare, if at all?

DKLG: I have spent a lot of time thinking about the similarities and differences between stand up comedy and spoken word. For me spoken word was an art form where the words were very important, the pacing, and taking your audience on a journey. The same thing is true for stand up. The difference for me is that in doing stand up I am expecting a particular response. Laughter. It is the pay off for good writing and timing. It is all about the joke. Taking tragedy or observations and turning them into laughs. Spoken word doesn't have the same expectations. It is an art form that can causes a number of reactions, and none of them are wrong. In stand up if you spend three minutes where the audience is absolutely silent you have "bombed," in spoken word it just usually means you have the audience's attention. In doing stand up I have allowed myself to interact with the audience in a different manner, I let them direct what I am doing, as opposed to performing an already finished product. That is the difference for me. Improvisation, or "riffing" in comedy is much more a part of the art form. It is what makes it slightly more terrifying for me. I am often inspired on stage to say or do something I didn't know was coming. For now that is exciting. Both art forms can be entertaining, or perspective-shifting. The main difference I find is that I am not constantly have to explain what I do when I say "I am a comedian," whereas when I used to call myself a "slam poet" the questions were endless.

rm: After years of living in the Ottawa area, you recently relocated to Seattle. What prompted the move?

DKLG: Leaving Almonte and the Ottawa area was a difficult decision to make. I had carved a niche for myself, helped to build a community and was comfortable with my life. My husband was looking for jobs in Ottawa and they just weren't there. He applied to Microsoft just outside of Seattle and three weeks later we were moving. It was very sudden. Seattle is an incredible city. It is arts vibrant, with very progressive political and environmental policies and isn't so different from Ottawa. We moved. I miss the home that I had come to cherish back in Almonte and I am coming to love my new city. Those two things are not mutually exclusive at all.

rm: It was recently announced that you are one of the two recipients of the 2014 VERSe Ottawa Hall of Honour. What was your first reaction to the announcement?

DKLG: Absolute shock. Then a whole lot of excitement knowing that I would be able to go home for the first time since I had left. I am so honoured and humbled to be sharing the stage with an incredible poet and community builder, Amanda Earl.


Born in Ottawa, Canada’s glorious capital city, rob mclennan currently lives in Ottawa. The author of more than twenty trade books of poetry, fiction and non-fiction, he won the John Newlove Poetry Award in 2010, and was longlisted for the CBC Poetry Prize in 2012. His most recent titles include notes and dispatches: essays (Insomniac press, 2014) and The Uncertainty Principle: stories, (Chaudiere Books, 2014), as well as the forthcoming poetry collection If suppose we are a fragment (BuschekBooks, 2014). An editor and publisher, he runs above/ground press, Chaudiere Books, The Garneau Review (ottawater.com/garneaureview), seventeen seconds: a journal of poetry and poetics (ottawater.com/seventeenseconds) and the Ottawa poetry pdf annual ottawater (ottawater.com). He spent the 2007-8 academic year in Edmonton as writer-in-residence at the University of Alberta, and regularly posts reviews, essays, interviews and other notices at http://robmclennan.blogspot.ca/.

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