Tag Archives: Spoken word

To be or not to be a minority – that is the question (poem)

1 Oct

To be or not to be a minority – that is the question
A question I have been revisiting and trying to comprehend
From the outskirts, being a minority doesn’t seem like the ideal position
Being different, perhaps a dissident, maybe exotic
And I’m all too familiar with these words and trends
Having used them, even in my favour.
But as I have come to understand and accept my story
This minority status has become a fallacy
A malicious status imposed on me
The dominant norms and ideologies that have bruised and broken and beaten me
Boxing me in to this tiny crevice of being a minority.

Have you ever felt different, or that you didn’t quite fit or belong?

Most of us have felt that way at one point or another in our lives. It’s not an easy place to be, especially when we desire love, connection, acceptance and belonging.


Trying to find the right pieces. (Jenna Tenn-Yuk)

I’ve felt different for most of my life and my puzzle pieces never seemed to line up. There was always a part of me that didn’t quite fit the community I wanted to belong to. It has been really challenging negotiating the various pieces of my identity and figuring out how I belonged (or didn’t).

In some groups, I held back certain aspects of my identity and part of me was missing. In other spaces, I hid different pieces and didn’t feel whole. There was silence, insecurity and often shame.

Gay AND Christian? Chinese AND Jamaican? Say what?!?

Many of us never feel like we’re enough.

Never forget these powerful words. (Jenna Tenn-Yuk)

And yet we are. (Jenna Tenn-Yuk)

Can I tell you how awesome you are? It’s true! Many of us navigate these in-between spaces and yet, we often marginalize others who are different. We really need to listen and hear each other’s stories, and not be afraid to bring our whole selves.

I’m still figuring out what it looks like to bring all the pieces of Jenna to the table. It’s tough and will be a lifelong journey, but I know it’ll be worth it. When you have a chance, check out my poem, Minority, and I hope you can connect.

Have you ever felt like you didn’t belong? How have you negotiated the various pieces of your identity?


Creating spaces and showing up: my last Words to Live By show

25 Aug

I can’t believe it has been two years since I accidentally started Words to Live By! It was meant to be a five-part series over the summer, but there was a demand to continue a monthly show.

Several people said this kind of series was missing from Ottawa’s spoken word scene and there hadn’t been a show like this since the Oneness Poetry Showcase.

A beautiful and intimate atmosphere. (Rebecca Jones)

An intimate atmosphere at Pressed for our first show. (Rebecca Jones)

I really wanted to create a space to encourage first-time performers, up-and-coming poets and women. We’ve had many people courageously share their poetry for the first time, while others have had their first featured performance.

Artemysia Fragiskatos first poetry feature. (Jenna Tenn-Yuk)

Artemysia Fragiskatos’ first poetry feature. (Jenna Tenn-Yuk)

Benoit Christie performing during the open mic. (Jenna Tenn-Yuk)

Benoit Christie performing during the open mic. (Jenna Tenn-Yuk)

It has been beautiful to see people step out of their comfort zone, and recognize the power of their voices and stories.

“Open mic with the bestest people in the world. Thank you for providing space for all those wonderful poets and incredible human beings. Learning to own my voice and be my kind of beautiful 🙂 Jenna, thank you for introducing me so lovingly into the stage…the warm feeling is still spreading from my chest to my smile. Thank you for being your awesome self and organizing the best show in town. I look forward to it every time.”

It has been such a pleasure showing up and creating a place for individuals to own their voices and be their kind of beautiful. Often, we just need the opportunity, encouragement and space to realize how awesome we are.

Many great memories at Words to Live By. (Artemysia Fragiskatos)

Many great memories at Words to Live By. (Artemysia Fragiskatos)

If you’re around tomorrow on Tuesday, August 26, it’d be awesome to see you for my last Words to Live By show at Pressed Cafe. I’m also excited to let you know that Artemysia Fragiskatos and Brad Morden will be continuing the show.

Doors and open mic sign-up are at 7pm. Come by, share some poetry and celebrate our two-year anniversary with us!

From Parliament Hill to the classroom: where spoken word has taken me

14 May

In my wildest dreams, I never imagined I would write and share poetry, let alone see the doors this art form has opened for me. I’ve had wonderful opportunities to speak on Parliament Hill, give a TEDxTalk, lecture in universities, lead spoken word poetry workshops, meet awesome people and so much more.

While I was in the shower the other day (I often get many great thoughts and reflections there), I thought, “I can’t believe this is my life!” I can’t believe I get to speak at these incredible events, connect with amazing people and share my story – all because of spoken word.

Performing spoken word on Parliament Hill. (Robyn Plane)

Performing spoken word on Parliament Hill. (Robyn Plane)

Last week, I was invited by Senator Lillian Dyck to speak at the Era 21 Networking Breakfast for Young Canadians on Parliament Hill, along with movers and shakers, Jorge Barrera and Caitlin Tolley. This was my second time speaking at this event and I met some really great people there. I even ran into a few young and talented poets I had seen perform around Ottawa!

Panelists and students at the breakfast. (Robyn Plane)

The panel and some students at the breakfast. (Robyn Plane)

For me, spoken word is for the one person.

After the event, one of the students e-mailed me and said she connected with my poetry. You never know who will be impacted by your words and story. I perform and share my work for that one person, including this student.

“I just want to say that you’ve truly inspired me. The whole event inspired me, but you connected to me… I know that I want to continue to write and listening to your spoken word made me realize that this is something I want to do. Maybe not for the rest of my life and maybe I won’t even be good at it, but I do want to give it a shot. Hopefully, I will score. 

“So I was wondering if you could give me pointers on where and how to get started? I know you have a friend who introduced you to spoken word poetry and I was hoping that you could do the same for me. Thank you again for your inspiration.”

We all have a gift and story worth sharing.

I was also in a high school giving a number of workshops to grade 8 students. Although very few of them had ever been exposed to spoken word, they were very receptive and attentive to this new way of sharing their voices. One student commented and told me, “You make poetry very interesting.”

I was completely blown away by their thoughts, experiences, stories and poetry. They have so much insight to share with those around them, and I think many of these students just needed a space to know their voices mattered.

“We would like to thank you for sharing your gift with us, and opening our eyes to the stories that can be told with nothing more than a pen, paper and mind.” 

I’ve been dreaming for a long time to be able to combine my passions and gifts with my story. Sometimes, I felt as if my passions and dreams would explode out of me, but I knew I wasn’t ready to share my story in that way. Timing is everything.

It has taken a while to become comfortable in my skin, develop my skills, put myself out there and actually believe my voice mattered. Although it has been a long time coming, I know I’m on the right path.

I believe we’re at our best when we’re living our truths and tapping into all of who we are – including the messy areas and those parts we see as shameful. I’ve actually found those places to be the most life giving, freeing, passionate and fruitful.

We can fully come alive when we’re whole people.

I’m so blessed to have these wonderful experiences, and it’s the one-on-one connections and interactions I love the most. I feel so alive when I get to connect with people, help them find and speak their voices, discover their potential and realize they’re not alone in their experiences.

It doesn’t matter where these interactions happen whether they’re in a classroom, at a poetry show, on Parliament Hill or over e-mail. We can share our stories and encourage each other in so many different spaces and ways.

If my story and legacy can impact one person out of hundreds, then it’s worth risking, sharing and connecting. I want to create change in many spaces, but I always try and focus on that one person who needs to hear my words the most.

I have no idea where spoken word and music will take me (I have many dreams!), but I do know I can’t imagine life without incorporating my passions and my story. All my struggles and difficulties have taught me so much and brought me to this point in which I’ll continue to dream, risk and challenge myself, as well as those around me.

It’s incredible to have opportunities to use my passions and share these pieces of my story with those around me. And I’ll continue to think about that one person – that little Jenna out there – who needs to know they’re loved, valued and their voice and story matter. That one person is the reason I do what I do.

What doors can and will open when you’re fully you, dream and step out of your comfort zone?

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