Tag Archives: Spoken word poetry

I don’t hate the sinner, I hate the sin (poem)

16 Oct

Have you ever heard a Christian person mention,
“I don’t hate the sinner, I hate the sin”
Can I tell you how annoying that comment is?
And I grew up Christian.

(Michael Vidler)

(Michael Vidler)

I recently had the opportunity to film one of my poems, I Don’t Hate the Sinner, I Hate the Sin, in a Vancouver church. I’ve wanted to film one of my pieces about being gay and Christian in a church for several years, and I finally had the opportunity during my Vancouver Biennale artist residency over the summer.

It was an interesting experience to film in a place that has become foreign and scary to me. I had many thoughts and feelings of belonging (or lack thereof) while I was there.

It brought me back to the place in which I had written this poem. It brought me back to harmful comments that many Christians say to people who are LGBTQ without thinking twice.

It was a place of hurt, pain and shame.

One of the most common phrases is, “I don’t hate the sinner, I hate the sin.” Christians often say they don’t hate LGBTQ people, but their “lifestyle.” It’s a shame that same-sex love is somehow reduced to a lifestyle and not simply love.

But this poem reminds me that change can happen.

Since writing this piece, I’ve grown in loving myself and accepting my story. Others have also grown in listening and understanding my experiences. We may have different perspectives, but I know how much they love me and our hearts are softening.

It would mean a lot if you checked out this personal poem when you have a chance. Thank you to Michael Vidler for producing this video, and Canadian Memorial United Church for allowing us to film in their sanctuary.

Let’s keep chatting, breaking down walls, hearing each other’s stories and living in the grey.


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!

Everyone loves an Asian girl, right? (poem)

12 Jun

Everyone Loves An Asian Girl was the first poem I wrote four and a half years ago. I was inspired after a poetry show and the words quickly flooded out of my pen.

Once I started writing, I couldn’t stop. Those countless hours of writing, reflecting and performing have brought me to Vancouver as a Vancouver Biennale artist-in-residence.

Since that first poem, my work has continued to deal with who I am and the complexities of identity. Writing has helped me to negotiate, work through and come to terms with the various pieces of my story. It has also caused me to reflect and ask even more questions.

Since being in Vancouver, I’ve been thinking a lot about identity and my roots.

It’s uncomfortable to work through these difficult and complex parts of who we are, but it’s necessary for change and growth. We often don’t give ourselves the space to deal with these issues and questions.

Vancouver Poetry Slam

Performing at the Vancouver Poetry Slam. (Camila Ramos Bravo)

Last Monday, I did a mini feature at the Vancouver Poetry Slam. I performed two of my poems, Everyone Loves An Asian Girl and Minority. I hadn’t performed that piece since I wrote Everyone Loves A Jamasian Girl, a poem exploring my Chinese-Jamaican roots.

So when did liking Asian girls become a trend
When my friend asked me, “Jenna, why do guys like Asian girls?”
I let out a smirk and didn’t know what to say
It’s because we’re cute and petite and “exotic?”
Wait a minute! Why did I justify?
Offended because she reduced me to that
I was more than just an Asian girl
Who got all the stares at my –
Everyone loves an Asian girl t-shirt.

This poem was inspired by my t-shirt, Everyone loves an Asian girl, which I bought in high school. I thought it was cute and true, especially with so many people having “yellow fever.”

Everyone loves an Asian girl. (Kaite Burkholder)

Everyone loves an Asian girl, right? (Kaite Burkholder)

What’s this “yellow fever?” It’s a term used to describe people of non-Asian descent who have a strong interest, attraction and preference for Asian people and culture. I’ve been on the receiving end of this “fever,” particularly from men.

I used to think this obsession was funny, flattering or made me special in some strange way. However, I’ve come to resent this exoticization of my appearance and the assumptions associated with being an Asian woman.

It’s tiring to be objectified for how you look and having people constantly ask, “What are you?” or “Where are you from?” Many people aren’t usually satisfied when I tell them I’m from Canada.

Check out my poem when you have a chance and thank you to the Vancouver Poetry Slam for filming it.

Let the Vancouver Biennale adventures begin!

9 Jun

It has been just over a week since I arrived in Vancouver, and I’ve already met some incredible people who are doing amazing work. I’m excited to be part of the Vancouver Biennale and for the opportunity to connect with other artists and community partners.

I’ve already learned a lot from those around me and it has been great spending time with other Biennale artists, including Andreas Strauss and my coordinator, Ken Lum.

(Andreas Strauss)

Meet Andreas, Ken and Camila. (Andreas Strauss)

Exploring a studio space. (Andreas Strauss)

Checking out one of the studio spaces. (Andreas Strauss)

I love new adventures and exploring new places. It has been refreshing creatively to be here, and I’ve enjoyed taking the time to dream big and appreciate my surroundings. It’s easy to move through life quickly, and forget to slow down and soak up the little moments.

A beautiful discovery on a hike with my friend. (Jenna Tenn-Yuk)

A beautiful discovery on a morning hike with my friend. (Jenna Tenn-Yuk)

Meet my friend, Molly. (Amanda Watson)

Enjoying my time with Molly and the mountains. (Amanda Watson)

I’m drawn to passionate people who want to make a difference in their communities, and there’s definitely exciting work happening in Vancouver. I’ve connected with some movers and shakers here, and I’m thrilled to be part of fostering this dialogue.

This week, I’ll be starting my workshops and I have a few performances and interviews. Feel free to tune in and/or check out the workshops if you’re in Vancouver.

I’m excited to see what happens as people explore the complexities of identity, spirituality and sexuality. I hope participants will see the power of their voices and will mutually learn from one another through their stories.

The F Word interview
Date: Monday, June 9
Time: 12pm
Vancouver Co-op Radio (online) or CFRO 100.5FM (Vancouver)

Vancouver Poetry Slam performance
Date: Monday, June 9
Time: 8pm
Place: Café Deux Soleils (2096 Commercial Dr)

Spoken word workshop
Date: Wednesday, June 11
Time: 7pm
Place: Heartwood Community Café (317 E Broadway)
Event: https://www.facebook.com/events/1504765246404418

Spoken word workshop
Date: Sunday, June 15
Time: 1pm
Place: Heartwood Community Cafe (317 E Broadway)
Event: https://www.facebook.com/events/1504765246404418

I’ll be writing some blog posts for the Vancouver Biennale, so look out for more of my Vancouver adventures! I’ll also share how a random hug with a stranger three months ago got me here. Spoiler alert: that stranger happened to be the founder of the Vancouver Biennale, Barrie Mowatt.

I’m off to Vancouver: building bridges as a Vancouver Biennale artist-in-residence

22 May

I have some very exciting news to share with you. I’ll be taking part in the Vancouver Biennale’s artist-in-residence program in June!

The Vancouver Biennale is a non-profit organization that celebrates art in public space. Over the next two years, the group is inviting 92 artists from around the world to come to Vancouver to create public art and dialogue. Some of the incredible artists include, Ai Weiwei and Jonathan Borofsky.

The theme of this Biennale is Open Borders/Vancouver Crossroads, and the residency program is inspired by Martin Luther King, Jr.’s, I Have A Dream speech.

I have many dreams for change, freedom and equality.

I’m planning to lead numerous creative and hands-on spoken word poetry workshops, which will culminate in a public event and dialogue at the end of the month. In particular, I’m focusing on bringing together voices from lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer (LGBTQ), Christian and feminist communities.

There is often a lack of dialogue and understanding between these groups, and I’m interested in helping foster conversations and peacebuilding through spoken word. There are many bridges and connections to be built.

My purpose is to create spaces in which people can openly and freely share their stories through poetry. I also hope the workshops and event help participants see ways they can use their voices as a tool for social change in their own lives and communities. We understand the world around us through stories, which helps us to grow, learn and be challenged.

Let's bring these issues out of the shadows. (Jenna Tenn-Yuk)

Let’s talk and bring these issues out of the shadows. (Jenna Tenn-Yuk)

I also want people to sit in the complexities, messiness and ask questions.

This dialogue is not about finding the answers, but living the questions and mutually learning from one another. Change takes time, but I believe it begins when we listen to one another and come to recognize our similarities and common humanity. I really hope participants will be open to having these important conversations.

Change is happening and it’s exciting to be part of the movement and dialogue. 

Last month, I spoke to high school students at the Toronto Catholic District School Board’s first gay-straight alliance (GSA) conference. When I was a student at a Catholic high school, I could’ve never imagined having a GSA or attending one of these conferences. It was amazing to see these students step out in courageous ways, and create safe and open spaces for LGBTQ people.

I’m excited to see what’s happening in Vancouver and to hear people’s stories. If you are in Vancouver and would like to be part of this dialogue, please be in touch at jenna.tennyuk@gmail.com. I hope we can build some connections and bridges together.

“ I have a dream that one day… we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood.” (Martin Luther King, Jr.)

I’m presenting at Pecha Kucha and Congress in Victoria

27 May

This is a really exciting and busy week for me! I’m presenting at Pecha Kucha in Ottawa and Congress in Victoria, along with a few other events I’d like to share with you.

What’s Pecha Kucha, you may ask?

Pecha Kucha is an event for creative people to get together and share their ideas, thoughts and work. Each speaker presents 20 images, for 20 seconds each and talks along the visuals. Pecha Kucha first started in Tokyo 10 years ago and the events take place in more than 600 cities worldwide.

I’m incorporating some spoken word poetry into my presentation, so I hope people find my talk interesting. Pecha Kucha Ottawa Vol. 08 is happening on Wednesday, May 29 at St. Brigid’s Centre for the Arts, and you can purchase your tickets here.

I was also invited to perform some spoken word at an event before Pecha Kucha at St. Alban’s Church, so it’ll definitely be a busy night.

Off to Victoria!

I’m presenting some of my research on slam poetry at Congress and giving a workshop. Congress is Canada’s largest humanities and social sciences conference. I’ve never been to Victoria, so I’m excited to share my work and to also explore the city. I’ve heard it’s absolutely beautiful there!

Words to Live By is back this Tuesday, May 28 at Pressed Cafe. We’ll be featuring Daniel Mark Patterson (DMP) who recently qualified for the Urban Legends poetry slam finals. We’re excited to hear his work and hopefully hear some new voices in the open mic. Open mic sign-up is at 6:30pm.

A few weeks ago, I also acted in a short film by my friend, Caro Ibrahim. The film will be shown at the Digi60 Spring Festival on Thursday, May 30 at the Bytowne Cinema. I’ve seen the final version of the short, and the visuals and script came together beautifully.

I’m a bit nervous to see my face on a big screen, but I hope you enjoy the film and my acting!

Smelling the flowers. (Caro Ibrahim)

Smelling pretty flowers in Between You & Me. (Caro Ibrahim)

(Caro Ibrahim)

I approve! (Caro Ibrahim)

A poem for my sister: some day we’ll meet and understand

21 May

Quickly life and death
Some day we’ll understand why
Never forgotten.
– Jenna Tenn-Yuk

"Some day we'll understand." (Jenna Tenn-Yuk)

One day. (Jenna Tenn-Yuk)

When I visit my family, I often go to the graves of my grandfather and sister. These are places that ground me when I’m stressed out, and remind me what’s important and how precious life is. I feel a sense of peace and re-centred after visiting these places.

Many people don’t know I had a sister. I rarely talk about her. My family rarely mentions her name. I think her memory is too painful.

Her name was Danielle Marie. She was born on January 2, 1985. She also took her first and last breath within the hour of her birth because her kidneys weren’t properly formed.

There’s only one date on her gravestone.

When I visit her grave, I often cry. I’m overwhelmed with grief for my parents who lost their first child – their first daughter.

I also cry because she never got the chance to take her first steps, laugh at silly moments, have her first kiss, experience many large and hilarious family gatherings, discover who she is, see the beauty of the world, find her voice and so much more.

Why was I so lucky to have these opportunities and not her?

Life would’ve been so different if she had survived. Would my older brother who was born that same year be here? Would I be here?

My brothers and I. (Ben Tenn-Yuk)

My brothers and I. (Ben Tenn-Yuk)

Some day we’ll understand.

I stare at those words on her gravestone. My family will never understand why they had to experience this pain. At least not in this lifetime.

I don’t want her life to be forgotten. She was someone. She was a daughter. She was a gift. She was my sister.

She also reminds me not to waste opportunities or to live in regret. I want to be the daughter, sister, friend, partner and mentor she never got to be.

My sister, Danielle
I’ll live the life you couldn’t
Your memory lives.
– Jenna Tenn-Yuk

I wrote this poem a few years ago about her story and would like to share it with you. I’ve only performed it in public a few times. This is the legacy and inspiration she leaves for me.

More Than An Hour

In an hour, you have the power
To watch a really bad reality show
Browse on Facebook
Live through the most heartbreaking tribulation
Or take your first and last breath.

So I have two brothers – my older brother Jonathan and little brother Jordan
Jonathan, Jenna, Jordan
Apparently, my parents thought they’d cleverly name all their kids with Js. Cute, right?
But I’ve always wondered what it’d be like to have a sister, especially an older one
One I could share clothes with and go shopping with
And dance with and do girly things with
Things my brothers would never want to do

And because she was older
She would get in trouble for all the things I got in trouble for
And then it would be clear sailing for me
Just like the difficulties I had to go through
So my little brother could sail free.
And as much as I love my brothers
When I see my friends with their sisters, I wish I had one
There’s a bond that only sisters can share and bare their souls together with
They just get each other.

You know, I wonder how different my life would be
If she – survived.
She was born January 2nd, 1985
25 years ago.
Three months into her pregnancy
The doctor told my mom her baby wouldn’t make it
Because her kidneys weren’t properly formed
And with only one kidney, not properly formed
Her form would never properly develop and she would never survive.

But my mom believed Danielle would be healed as a baby grew in her
Holding on for 6 more months
180 days
4,320 hours
Holding her baby girl
Hoping her baby girl
Would hold on and live.
So my mom held on through Christmas
Receiving new baby clothes to dress up her soon-to-be daughter
Not realizing someone was dying inside her
A baby in her who would never survive outside her.

But life wasn’t the Kodak moment she would take
Just the wake she’d walk as she dealt with heartache and heartbreak
Staring at the tiny coffin of Danielle Marie
Do you know what Danielle means?
“God is my judge. God is my judge.”
God knew she wouldn’t make it through that day or month or year
Or even more than an hour
And though my mom held on for 6,480 hours
Danielle just wouldn’t, or couldn’t, or shouldn’t?

But what if Danielle lived
Jonathan, my older brother may not exist
Because he was born 10 months later to cater to the deep crater
Missing deep in my parents’ hearts.
Or maybe I wouldn’t be the one here
Thinking about a sister I only see when we visit the tiny grave
Hidden under a tree in the cemetery
Cementing the terrible tragedy in my parents’ memories

And Danielle, I know God is the judge
But sometimes I judge his decision to take you away
And the pain our parents faced in losing their first child
Their first daughter
And do you hear? Are you here?
Because I will be the daughter you never got to be
The sister you never got to be
Because God could have taken me or not allowed me to be
If he gave you the chance to breathe for more than an hour.

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?

Haikus, random adventures and upcoming shows

22 Apr

I went for another early wander this past weekend and it was just as peaceful, inspiring and full of wonder as the last time. I think I need to do this on a weekly basis!

As I walked down the tree-lined streets and visited one of my favourite spots in Ottawa, I once again felt inspired to write. This time, I wrote a few haikus. It has been years since I wrote a haiku and I’d love to share them with you.

At peace. (Jenna Tenn-Yuk)

A peaceful moment. (Jenna Tenn-Yuk)

Walking empty streets

As the sun beams on my face

A moment of peace.

So beautiful. (Jenna Tenn-Yuk)

My favourite trees. (Jenna Tenn-Yuk)

It droops with sorrow

Weeping an unknown story

But still standing strong.

I can’t wait until this spot is filled with water again. But since it wasn’t, I decided to walk across the empty pond to the other side, which I had never travelled before. It was neat to see the few other footprints who wandered here and to also leave my own.

Waiting for the water. (Jenna Tenn-Yuk)

An adventure calling me. (Jenna Tenn-Yuk)

When I crossed, I saw beautiful streets and spots I had never seen before. I continued to wander and ended up at one of my favourite places – Kettleman’s bagels! I got to chat with my favourite bagel maker, and it was great to see him and hear how he was doing.

Delicious! (Jenna Tenn-Yuk)

Delicious! (Jenna Tenn-Yuk)

I also wanted to let you know about some upcoming shows. This Tuesday, April 23, Words to Live By will be featuring a beautiful poet, writer and person, Mia Morgan. I’m excited she will get to perform her first feature at our show at Pressed Cafe. Open mic sign-up and doors open at 6:30pm, so it would be fabulous to see you there.

I’m also performing this Thursday, April 25 at Raw Sugar Cafe with some amazing musicians, including Claude Munson and Andrew Johnson. I’ve been inspired to write lately, so you may hear some new music and poetry. Doors open at 8pm.

There are a lot of exciting thoughts and dreams happening in my life right now. I can’t wait to see where my wander and adventure take me!

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