You don`t hear everyday that someone in his 50s, with a career and family crashes the world of Slam Poetry and represents Canada at the World Cup of Slam Poetry in Paris. Believe it or not, Ian French does something incredible within a short time showing that nothing is impossible in this life.
IF THE POET directed by Kim Saltarski is a documentary film about Ian French who suddenly decided to channel a lifetime of societal rage and painful life-lessons into dramatically-forceful poetry, competing on stages against accomplished spoken word artists 30 years his junior.
MOVIEMOVESME proudly introduces an interview with Ian French himself who with his answers will make you love the poetry even more.
MOVIEMOVESME: You started writing music at the age of 13 but got into slam poetry just recently. So why did you wait for such a long time?
Ian French: That’s a great question! I didn’t know that spoken-word or slam poetry existed, to be honest. I’d seen a couple things of it but it just didn’t register in my mind and so I didn’t know anybody who did it. I didn’t know it was a regular thing and sometimes the universe doesn’t open the doors until you’re ready. When that door finally opened I was ready!
MOVIEMOVESME: Reading a poem isn’t enough at times but feeling it is more important. What is your opinion about not being just a poet but a sensitive poet?
Ian French: I like what you said and I agree with that. I think poetry is about feeling, the same way music is about feeling, the same way art is about feeling, the same way film is about feeling. I read a lot of poetry and some of them I feel are just too intellectual and too rational; I don’t feel that connects with people. I think some people have an idea that poetry just falls from heaven into your head and you’re supposed to write it out the way it came to you, like it’s raw inspiration. I personally think that’s nonsense. I don’t know anybody in any field, whether it’s song writing or a visual artist who doesn’t own the vision and improve the vision and think about how the fundamentals of communication and the way people think, feel. So I think it’s really just an understanding that poetry is just like any other art form and any other discipline, it requires a lot of work, commitment, focus and understanding of humans, what moves us; that’s what makes good poetry.
MOVIEMOVESME: Poetry is like sharing your inner world with everyone else. How was your experience of going on stage and participating in the Canadian…?
Ian French: Well it is about sharing your innermost feeling but it’s an interesting thing. When I first started I didn’t get that intimate. It was actually my coach and my crew who taught me to go on stage. It’s the things that terrify you, haunt you, upset you are invariably the same thing that terrifies, haunts and upsets other people. So I think the more vulnerable or exposed or intimate you become, in a strange way the more relatable you become to other people. Once you get over that, you realize that’s the essence of communication, it gives you a little courage to go to that source more often.
MOVIEMOVESME: It’s obvious you have enough energy to read poetry that requires a lot of emotion. How do you manage to combine the energy and the emotion when you walk into the stage?
Ian French: It’s fueled by terror! Because we are, as humans, terribly afraid of exposing ourselves, so as soon as you get in front of the crowd there’s a huge adrenaline rush. So I think the art of performing is taking that adrenaline and that energy and that anxiety and channeling it all into a performance. Also the desire to and love you want to communicate to people. But I think if anybody who steps on stage without being full of energy, there’s something wrong with them.
MOVIEMOVESME: Audience can be very unpredictable, so how do you manage to read the audience to be able to control their emotions?
Ian French: I think understanding the audience comes through experience. Like, are you in a coffee shop or in a bar on Saturday night? Is it an ethnically diverse audience or is it all white people? How old are they, what was on before, how did they react to it? I think all of these questions go through your mind and you have to think about them. You have to tailor what you’re doing to the crowd. Some nights the crowd love comedy, sometimes drama and you have to be sensitive enough to read the crowd.
MOVIEMOVESME: There are many talented people who, for some reason or the other, don’t showcase their talents. What would you advise them so that they are able to come out?
Ian French: That’s almost like a philosophical question! I think a lot of people have a fear of the world and a fear of being judged. You have to realize that everybody is involved in their own drama and their own challenges and struggles. Nobody is that focussed on what you’re doing, so I think you just have to realize that you can go out an do things and the world would embrace you. Not everyone is waiting around to knock you down or criticize you and you can’t do anything in life if you’re afraid to express yourself. We as people are taught not to be powerful, not to express ourselves and I think any form of art is an expression of talent. I see power as a creative, uplifting, inspirational force where force itself is more fear based. I think you just have to believe in yourself and believe in the world enough to do what it is you’re called to do.