Two-time Canadian national slam champion, poet, and performer Brandon Wint shares his brilliant mind with MindMeet’s storyteller, Araxe Hajian, on the meaning of mercy, how to tell our truths, and much more.
AH: What are you curious about?
BW: I’m curious about the nature of love. I’m curious about who I really am and what is possible when I’m not afraid. I’m curious about other people’s lives. One of the reasons that I am so passionate about poetry is that it teaches me a lot about other human beings.
AH: Sometime poetry reveals otherwise hidden truths. What does it mean to tell the truth?
BW: I think the reason that people are attracted to poetry is because they want some form of the truth. We enter artistic spaces, we engage with art, music, or poetry, because we want something about the human condition to be revealed or reconciled or made easier to cope with. That is what the best art does. A great poem will teach me something about what it means to be human. There is no way to create that experience for yourself or someone else without engaging with the truth.
AH: Please tell us about your latest album, Infinite Mercies
BW: It is partly about the recognition of how many small, miraculous things needed to happen in order to sustain my life. How many moments of small mercy needed to happen to create space for me? There’s so much about our being here that we don’t understand, but the fact that we are here is a big Wow!
AH: Tell me a little bit more about that word “mercy”.
BW: It is the force that sustains us here, and it is what we’re all looking for from one another. Humans are so prone to making mistakes and to misunderstandings that if it wasn’t for mercy, none of us could live. If life didn’t offer us mercy, none of us would survive it because it’s not as though our innate perfection is what justifies our being here.
The relationship between love and mercy is important. It doesn’t mean that mercy is always nice. But those who are willing to present to us a sort of love that has us look at ourselves squarely and confront our truths–that’s deep mercy. Any time we can offer one another mercy it is a beautiful thing. If I write a poem and the reader or listener understands something profound about life from my poem, or if they’re made to be more hopeful, or if the poem gives them strength in some way–all of that is a response to mercy. We are beings who crave mercy because we’re so prone to confusion. Any moment of clear understanding is merciful.
AH: How do you differentiate what you want and what you need?
BW: What I want is to know myself, to honor my divine, intellectual, and creative potential. And my loving potential in the ways that I think about how to live on this planet. I suppose those are also the things I need. We can often want things that we don’t need. It is possible to want things that are not healthy for us. There have been times in my life when I wanted to eat seven cookies in a day. But, I don’t need that.
AH: I think we can all relate to that one.
BW: I guess what I’m actually doing is differentiating between that which is a distraction and that which makes more room for healing and knowledge of self in my life. I’ve made a lot of room for distractions. So, making room for what I need is really making more room for my higher self to operate in my conscious mind as opposed to my subconscious mind.
AH: Who has inspired you on your path to becoming a poet and spoken word artist?
BW: Dionne Brand. She’s originally from Trinidad and has been living in the Toronto area since the 1970s. My mother is from Barbados and my father is from Jamaica, so I come from people who were raised by the sea. In reading Dionne Brand’s work, I could hear the influence of water… it was like hearing the ocean.
I was raised in Canada, which isn’t near the ocean, so I don’t have an intimate visceral experience of being by the water. But in her work, I could hear parts of myself that I was longing for but couldn’t really touch. Her work opened up the world for me because I didn’t know that poetry could do that. It made me want to investigate my own voice.
AH: If you could go back and visit your five-year-old self, what would you tell him?
BW: I would ask him to recognize his body as special or sacred or worthy of love. I would ask him to reflect, as deeply as he could, on all the ways that he is worthy of love and all the ways that his body, in particular, is worthy of honor.
AH: Can you talk a little bit more about that? About your five-year-old body.
BW: I was born with a disability called Cerebral Palsy, so my body has always been the site of a lot of questions and opinions. When you’re a child with a visibly disabled body, two things will happen: One thing is that a lot of your peers ask questions like, “Why don’t you move in the same way that I move?” As a five-year-old, you formulate answers to that question when you really don’t understand the answers. The other thing is that everyone has an opinion on what you should do and what you can’t do. There were so many messages that came through that made me believe that my body was the source of a problem and that is the kind of thing that can lead a child to think of his body as something that is not lovable.
AH: What changed that narrative for you? When did you move away from “you can’t”?
BW: The understanding that love was something I could choose consciously. My upbringing was full of love. I knew that I was loved on a fundamental level, which is why my outlook on life can be so optimistic and hopeful. But what transformed my adult life was the understanding that love was something I could choose, and I could choose to love more than I feared.
It’s not that I necessarily made peace with my body, but I figured out a way to amplify my spirit to know that I’m lovable. But because I never reconciled whatever wounds I had in my relationship to my body, it meant that there was a limit to the amount and the sort of love that I would allow myself to receive. I didn’t fundamentally believe that my body was lovable. Because of these “I can’t” narratives, it became easy to believe that I wasn’t totally worthy of the love that I imagined in my head. I am still understanding my healing in terms of my relationship to my body.
AH: What does balance mean to you?
BW: In a general sense, balance is that which creates harmony. I think part of the confusion is that people think balance means having equal parts in everything. But it doesn’t necessarily mean that. It just means having component parts situated in such a way as to create an equilibrium.
It’s also the capacity to bring into your life both what you want and what you need. We’re good at acquiring things, but maybe not always at getting what we need. This has an impact on people’s capacity to heal. The intersection between what we want and what we need is the place of balance, joy, and health.
AH: Was there a time in your life when you got, what we like to call at MindMeet, “the right advice from the right person at the right time”?
BW: Yes. I used to be part of a poetry group; we were like a poetry boyband. There were four of us–at 21, I was youngest. We toured Canada’s music and poetry festivals and competed as a team in the National Poetry Slam of Canada at the Canadian Festival of Spoken Word. We won the competition and decided to stick together. For me, it was a very important teaching ground.
When I was really young, even before the group started, I won my first little competition, and that was a big deal for me. Coming from the modest background I had, I was really enjoying sharing my work. But the “bright lights” component of it was scary to me. I thought being a spoken word artist was going to make me egotistical–like I was going to lose some innate humility. And so, after I won my first completion I thought, “Oh, man…this is the beginning of the end. I’m going to turn into an arrogant monster.”
One of the senior members of the group looked at me and told me not to fear my greatness. It was important to hear his message which was, “This is just who you are, so embrace that power. There’s no need to fear the goodness that comes with being who you are, and you have to embrace that if you’re going to be your best self.”
Brandon Wint is a poet, spoken word artist, and teacher who is devoted to the articulation of the beauty of the human condition. His intricately-rendered performance pieces present a passionate, sincere, and whimsical version of humanity. His writing, performance, and pedagogical approach all affirm that beauty can be found in the struggle, and solace in sincerity-of-spirit. He is an artist who uses poetry to harness his own sense of empathy and strives to make each of his words, deeds, creations, and performances reflect that empathy unambiguously. He is a two-time Canadian national slam champion and a nationally published writer.