Posted on 9/23/2007 by Jason Kodie
Art in the Hood
I attended a poetry reading at Norwood school and listened to two poets – Robert Stevenson and Robert Heidbreder (hereafter Rob S. and Rob H.) They were but two of the many featured poets giving in-school readings, all part of poetry week. I arrived just before 9am, just in time to witness the aerobic warm up and doling out of snacks to the kids. Schools have evolved greatly since my elementary days and are far more in tune with their communities - Norwood School is no exception.
Rob S. recited to grades 4-6. He employed urban myths - monsters, aliens and werewolves as his poetic vehicle. To his credit, these were not tricks to get the students attention as his 3 novels confirmed. Sometimes the toughest crowd to win over are the 8-12 year olds as attention spans, lack of visuals, and booming music are non-factors for the acoustic and accapella poets. While there was bum squirming and wandering eyes, Rob S. held the attention of the majority of the students with his various monster poems, change of voice, and student participation. Well done Rob S.
Upstairs to the library I went to listen to Rob H. who was reading from his published books to Grades 1 and 2. The term ‘cagey vet’ came to mind almost immediately as it was made quite clear that this was not the first time Rob H. had been before this type of crowd. His use of dynamics including shrieks to inaudible whispering in the same phrase, held his young audience captive. His presentation was inspiring and infectous.
I was more than pleased to learn that Norwood school continues the poetry curriculum beyond one token day of visiting poets. The grade 5 and 6 classes maintain their own poetry journals throughout the school year, with grade 5’s re-visiting their work into grade 6. In my view, both poets delivered the goods in their respective presentations. Tough crowds, tough subject, all made entertaining, educational, and inspiring.
The same week, I attended a mural unveiling in the same hood, this time at the Métis Regional Council Zone IV located on 95st and 117ave. This project was a collaboration between two artists, Pedro Rodriguez de los Santos and Duane Linklater and nine indigenous youth from the Edmonton region. On paper, this seemed like a very cool cross-cultural exploration. My expectations were maybe a little higher, but I was let down by the mural they unveiled. Calling this project a mural is somewhat misleading. I would venture a « mural-panel » exploration highlighting aspects of First Nations imagery. Allow me to preface that with what I think constitutes a mural.
A mural :
• should be visible from afar, say a block away
• should not make the viewer squint to see the details, especially when standing underneath it
• should convey a clear message and an aspect of unity throughout the work
As let down as I was, I dug a little deeper.
The spark of colour this panache yields, I can easily say that it adds colour to a street in dire need of community expression. I can also attest that the speakers and presenters in attendance were nothing short of inspiring. J.R. Larose, the Edmonton Eskimo is a role-model and inspiration for aborignal youth struggling with identity and hardship. His speech spoke of overcoming adversity and allowing misfortune fuel his desire to succeed. The Métis Child Little Jiggers were delightful and were backed by two capable musicians. Man I love the métis fiddling style! Where’d that beat come from? What the, why the? Cool. Freshly Squeezed, the Aboriginal hip-hop group is a dynamic force that is taking their culture and its’ expression to a higher level through a mix of dance, street cred, and a level of respect for their roots while being in touch with the now in the world of hip-hop.
So yes, I was initially confused by the mural and let down somewhat given that the presentation was in a parking lot with a huge blank canvas of concrete where I assumed the mural was going to be (and is in sore need of). However, hopefully this is the start of an outdoor expression of Native art and imagery which this town could unquestionably use more of.