I will not forget last night.
It was that kind of evening - the kind that imprints itself onto your mind and memory with permanent ink.
And you're thankful afterward that the ink was permanent, because you don't want to forget.
Like most of you, I first heard Shane Koyczan during the Opening Cermonies of the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Games. Amid all of the lights and costumes and special effects of the Ceremony entered a young man who recited his poem "We are More". The simplicity of it took me by surprise. The words he spoke captured me and I couldn't shake my encounter with him. He intrigued me - the way he looked, the way he spoke, and how the combination of the two of them together charmed a country.
A year or so later I found myself listening to a recording of Shane Koyczan's poem, "The Crickets Have Arthritis". I was mesmerized. I wept as I listened and couldn't stop thinking about it afterward. His words and delivery gripped me and wouldn't let go. This man, I thought at the time, this man is amazing. And the more I listened to and read his words the more I knew it was true.
A few weeks ago I discovered that Shane Koyczan would be doing a reading of his poetry together with his band "Short Story Long" at the Vogue Theatre. I couldn't believe it. The thought of him delivering his words on a stage right in front of me at a historic theatre like the Vogue seemed a gift for my last few months here. I didn't want to go alone, and Mike hadn't ever experienced Shane Koyczan. He wasn't that eager to go as he didn't know what would be offered to him.
A week before the night of the poetry reading I was checking into it again. I knew I had to go. There had been an addition to the lineup - a Vancouver violinist named Hannah Epperson. That name sounded so familiar to me. I looked her up and could hardly contain my excitement.
You see, late last summer we spent an idyllic afternoon in Kitsilano which found us at Kits beach at sunset. As we walked, we noticed a young woman with flowing blond hair playing her violin. She was playing the most amazing music - layer up layer - with the help of a loop pedal. What started with the most simplistic pattern grew and grew as she added new loops of intricate and ethereal music. Mike was spellbound. He chatted with her afterward, got her name, and off she rode on her vintage bike, blond hair blowing behind her.
That was Hannah Epperson. She would be opening for, and playing with Shane Koyczan during his readings. Selling Mike on the idea of this night out was no longer a challenge.
And so it came to be that last night we sat in the velvet chairs in a beautiful old theatre in downtown Vancouver. It was full to the brim - amazing in and of itself that you could pack out a theatre with the promise of a poetry reading. (There is hope after all.)
Hannah Epperson opened the night just as I expected. Simply, hauntingly, and beautifully. There was no pretense, no "showmanship" nor slick elements of performance. It was only music - and for much of her performance she appeared lost in the wonder of it all. She played percussively, using her instrument seemingly beyond what it was intended for. We wished we could have heard more.
But then the feast began.
Offered up by a large man with a thick beard, glasses and a hat.
And when he started to feed us, we realized we'd never tasted anything quite like it before.
Shane Koyczan delivers his poems in "slam-style". His tempo and rhythm changes and quickens and leaves you on the edge of your seat. He gave some readings as solos and others along with his band the Short Story Long which consisted of piano, guitar, cello, stand-up bass, vocals and horns. There were poems in which he even sang. And when he did, the vulnerability and the risk he was so obviously taking, left you breathless and grateful.
It took less than thirty seconds for Mike to realize why he had come. A sacred offering was being made, and he was among the recipients.
Shane Koyczan is a broken man. He is raw and ragged and honest. He divulges secrets and stories, tragedy and heartbreak in the most profound ways. There are moments when you find yourself crying at the pain and grittiness of what he is describing, but then seconds later laugh uproariously at the self-depracating humour he is so very good at.
His words are substantial.
They are profane and rich and beautiful and captivating all at the same time.
They grip your heart and break it into pieces.
They help you believe in something again.
They cause you to look inward as his own tale is so raw and intimate there is nowhere else to look.
And that's the kind of night it was.
That is why I don't want to forget.
For a sample of Shane Koyczan, go here to listen to "Shut up and Say Something".
For a sample of Hannah Epperson's music and style, go here.
Shane Koyczan has just released a new collection of his poems.
Our Deathbeds Will Be Thirsty is published by mckellar & martin