Ian Keteku

Ian Keteku in "Nightmares"

Ian Keteku's "Right Side Up" is the second place winner in our VidLit contest. Congratulations to him!

 I first saw Ian Keteku at the Canadian Festival of Spoken Word 2009 in Victoria. He anchored the unstoppable team representing Ottawa. Crowds lapped up his wit and impeccable comedic timing in “Laptop Love Poem.” On finals night, he and one of his teammates, Poetic Speed, executed his poem “Kay” with perfectly practiced precision. It brought the house down and assured them the national title. But amongst these impressive displays, what struck me most when we first spoke after the slam was his openness, humility, and interest in other people's work.

The next summer he went on to represent Canada at the World Poetry Slam Championships in France and became the first Canadian finish in first. That unstoppable team in Victoria kept working together, toured the country, are working on an album and still perform regularly as “The Recipe.” These two remarkable resume items have led him to be one of the biggest draws on the spoken word scene in the country in the last two years. Lately, he has been applying the video production knowledge he gained while earning his master's degree in journalism to produce video poems and reach an even wider audience. When we spoke recently, it was refreshing to know that he has maintained his friendly, energetic, and thoughtful demeanour.
About “Right Side Up”
The impulse for the video first began when Keteku was working on another project, the video for his poem “Nightmares,” when Scottish animator Indie Venture responded to a call Keteku had put out. “Nightmares,” off his album Lessons From Planet Earth (Re-Evolution) ended up being produced sans animation, but Keteku felt drawn to Venture's work and floated the text of “Right Side Up” by her before any audio track even existed for the poem. He then enlisted the help of some musician friends, including ukulele playing Brad Morden, and made a date in the recording studio. Since Right Side Up's release, he has also released another video for his poem "Kay."
Keteku sees a parallel between the world of video poems and the poetry slam world in the access that the artists have to an audience. “Individuals in other mediums are only now realizing what slam has known for decades,” he told me over the phone, “anyone with the inspiration to say something can say it. The training involved to become a spoken word poet is as much or as little as you want. I can definitely see spoken word artist going from slam to video. But I can also see someone who has never been to a slam or anything can just pick it up a video and drop their poem. [Video] technology makes it so that anyone could and should be able to do it.”
He is also quick to point out the major differences between working in each medium though. “When we talk about spoken word, we're talking about the 3 dimensional experience – you're seeing something, hearing something, and hopefully feeling something. [Reading] a poem intended for the stage on a blog [for example], it doesn't have the same sort of kick. Then again, videos where the poet is simply performing the text, still lacks connection. Part of the reason slam is so visceral is because you're really there. It knocks down that fourth wall and there's a real connection between the audience and the artist.” To achieve a comparable investment from an audience requires that the artist consider the particularities of the video form, he says. This “forces spoken word artists to put their work out there in interesting and creative ways. None of the poems [in the VidLit contest] were the same. The videos were as different as the poems themselves.”
In this age of ubiquitous video consumption via the itnernet, Keteku is excited about the potential audience that video poems have. “Once artists bring the visual element to the text, there is no limit the audience SW can reach,” he said.
By way of advice to poets interested in producing their first video, Keteku says “the creation process comes in understanding what you have available, and using it to your maximum benefit. Ask yourself 'How do I use the resources available to me creatively and intelligently;' focus on the resources that you have. It doesn't matter what kind of camera you have, but who is behind the camera. It's not about how much money you have, but what your vision is. If you take it back to your vision, you'll figure out ways to make it work.”
Ian Keteku