How Shane Koyczan is Expanding Slam Poetry

The room is filled with fragile silence. The stage is dim and bare while the audience waits in hushed anticipation. In an instant, the lights flash, shining on a single performer. He shifts to center himself in front of the microphone, takes a deep breath and pierces the air with his words. Shane Koyczan is an award winning Canadian spoken word artist who has been able to touch the lives of many with his poetry by covering topics that have been stigmatized by society. With a button-down shirt, semi-rimless glasses, and a bushy beard, Koyczan is a presence on stage even before he opens his mouth. Koyczan’s style when performing is very minimal, limiting his physical movement to hand gestures. His expressive tone makes for his sparse movements; every pause he makes lets the audience absorb the meaning behind his words.

Many have praised the work of Koyczan; Scottish Crime Author Val McDermid has called him “electrifying” and “a writer who will break your heart, then heal it.” Koyczan mainly covers topics that relate to young adults in particular, such as body image, mental illness and bullying.   By using his own personal experiences, he shows that he himself understands firsthand the emotions and experiences in his poems. One of Koyczan’s poems states “how do you stand your ground when everyone you know wants to bury you beneath it?,” highlighting the helplessness that the victims of bullies have felt. He preaches the need to address important teenage issues such as suicide, depression and anxiety and is incredibly candid about the topics as he is able to unite these adolescent experiences with a single poem.

Chills will run down your back when you watch or even listen to one of Koyczan’s poems. By maintaining direct eye contact during his live performances, it’s almost as if Koyczan is directly speaking to you. His goal when he performs is to let people feel comfortable in the environment that they are in so it can be a safe space for people to be who they really are. Koyczan’s passion radiates, the intimacy of his words and his delivery drawing the viewer towards him.

One of Koyczan’s most famous poems is called “To This Day”, a poem for those who have faced the mockery of others. Koyczan shows his credibility on his subject matter by using his own experiences. In “To This Day”, he combines an amusing anecdote from his childhood with the harsh reality of mockery and depression.

“To This Day” was also adapted into an animated video where Koyczan collaborated with 12 animators who were supported by 80 artists. Koyczan was able to stretch and broaden the boundaries of slam poetry with his video as his ability to show the same type of zeal and dedication is a demonstration of his genius in poetry. The video itself mesmerizes you with the creative interpretations and different artistic directions that each individual artist took yet each part still maintains the same somber feeling you get from listening to Koyczan live. He retains the intensity of his performances, but it is accompanied by a patchwork of art that complements the poem.  

Today, Koyczan performs slam poetry with a trio called “Tons of Fun University” and performs with his band, “The Short Story Long”, both of which are based in British Columbia, Canada. He has also reached a large following of people on different social media platforms as he continues to go beyond the restraints of slam poetry. Shane Koyczan’s fearless, boldness and honesty is what makes him such a great and empathetic performer.

“I guess initially I was amazed that somebody would see something within my work that they could relate to, but the more it’s happened, the more people have come forward,” Koyczan said in an interview with North Shore News. “I’ve really realized that we’re all kind of going through the same thing at the same time.”