Danielle Gregoire Q & A with Danielle K. L. Grégoire

Interview by Ren Tomovcik

After five years on the local poetry scene, including performances in the finals of Capital Slam, Danielle K. L. Grégoire recently launched a CD of her best performances.  Crediting her decision to get onstage to the inspiration she got from other poets, Danielle hopes to pay it forward, and now she's doing just that as she spearheads a new spoken word series, the Spoken Word Plot.

Danielle, what inspires your poetry?  How does a poem evolve from start to finish?Most of my poetry comes from the everyday. I'll be doing something I always do, like taking the bus, walking around the city or hanging out with my daughter, and a line of poetry will pop into my head and continue to plague my mind until I put it on paper. I usually get a first draft out and leave it for awhile before looking at it again, and bringing new perspective or adding finishing touches. Then comes the memorization. That I used to do while walking around the city. Now that I'm living out in Almonte, I'll go for a walk with my daughter in her stroller and try to get a verse down at a time.

What's it like for you being onstage?It depends on the audience, and the vibe of the room. Sometimes I forget that I'm onstage and end up being extremely personal and conversational. Other times it's nerve-wracking. But if I'm really sure about a poem, and it's become like second skin, I usually find myself on the other side of the poem wondering where the time went. I get so involved when I'm performing. I try to summon up the moment that caused me to create the poem in the first place.

Danielle Gregoire
Back: Rusty Priske, Mehdi Hamdad, Nathanael Larochette, Steve Sauvé
Front: Ruthanne Edward, Danielle Grégoire and Thomas McKinlay (Photo: The Fulcrum)

You've said that you want to inspire other artists to get up and perform.  Which poets have inspired you in this way?
If you've seen my CD you know that the list of thank yous is ridiculously long. There are so many people who've inspired me that it is hard to choose. In Ottawa, I can say for certain that every time I heard a Kevin Matthews or a Steve Sauvé poem I wanted to start writing as soon as the last word left their lips. John Akpata has continually encouraged me to get onstage and make myself heard. Then there's DJ Morales, Free Will and Festrell, and the students that I used to teach...and Devin Murphy. I think that besides Steve, Devin was the bravest and most honest poet I have ever had the chance to hear.

Some of your pieces involve music and singing.  How do you think the different artistic disciplines are interconnected?
I know that it is important to cross-pollinate. It's also good to leave your comfort zone and engage with another art form to keep fresh. When I co-directed Capital Slam I made sure that we had different features, from musicians to page poets to comedians. I think that Ottawa is lucky in the way that the community is interconnected, because though it's the national capital, it is also a little city with artists just waiting for you to ask them to collaborate.

Danielle Gregoire
Danielle performs at the Cagibi in Montreal.

Who are some other creative people who have caught your attention in Ottawa? Jessica Ruano and her exquisite energy. Kenji Toyooka's absolutely beautiful paintings, which is why I chose him to design my CD cover. Nathanael Larochette's music, especially his Musk Ox work. Ottawa is teeming with creative people and nearly every day that I lived there I would meet someone with whom I would have loved to create.

You're an optimist by choice, and it's not always easy - you titled your CD "Optimism is a Constant Struggle."  You've said that you work hard on breaking free of negativity, using poetry as one of your tools.  What else do you do when you're feeling down that helps you get back on the brighter side?
I read children's books. I like to escape the adult world with its responsibilities and go on adventures. I go for walks with my baby girl. I put myself out there, by talking to people and smiling at strangers in the streets. I have a few friends who act as a lifeline, if I'm ever feeling really down. I give my husband a hug. And, of course, I write.

Danielle Gregoire (Left: Danielle Grégoire, Ken Kicksee, Monica Squires, Tammy MacKenzie and Emily Kwissa. Photo by Rob Riendeau.)

Tell us a little about the Spoken Word Plot, the project you're about to unveil in Almonte.
The Spoken Word Plot is a space for all sorts of spoken word endeavours including readers, writers, comedians, ranters, storytellers and anything else that I'm missing. I want it to bring together the people who are now separated by artificial boundaries and conventions.

Do you think you are answering a need for something like this in Almonte and filling a void, or are you simply adding richness to an existing community?Almonte is chock full of art and artists and events. I definitely feel as if I am just adding a space. I would like to see spoken word grow and flourish in the valley, but I know there are a ton of people out here who are just waiting for something like the Spoken Word Plot to help them share their work. Plus this way I get to bring out feature performers who are stopping by Ottawa, and show off the friendly and welcoming nature of the valley.

What other dreams do you have for the future?I hope to someday open an educational gallery, where the idea that "everything is art" is celebrated, and the community is responsible to the artist just as the artist is responsible to the community. Art is not produced in a vacuum, and it should be available to the mass public. I think we need to encourage people to see the art in what they do, so that art is inseparable from the everyday. Like food, shelter and air. We need art!

Capital Slam co-founder Greg Frankson says that the poetry scene grew exponentially when Capital Slam was introduced.  How does having a community to share with help pull new artists out of their shell and bring them together?Art is all about community. Sharing keeps us connected. Without it we get lost in the everyday drudgery. I didn't know what I was capable of until I put myself out there, and I am constantly inspired by the work of others. I only hope that my poetry has helped a few people get up and do it for themselves!

The Spoken Word Plot debuts at JR's Downstairs Pub in Almonte on Sunday, November 1st. To learn more, visit the Facebook group!

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