The Poet Laureate of Ontario title was created in memory of the iconic poet and The Tragically Hip front man, Gord Downie. Poet laureates raise public awareness of poetry and spoken word, and act as spokespersons for literature and the arts, in general. When it came to selecting the first ever Poet Laureate of Ontario last spring, the choice was clear: Randell Adjei.
Born in Ghana and raised in the multi-ethnic Toronto suburb of Scarborough, Adjei is a community leader, spoken word artist, author of the collection I Am Not My Struggles, and the executive director of R.I.S.E. (Reaching Intelligent Souls Everywhere) Edutainment. The organization provides artists with an inclusive space where they can share their work and develop professionally
What are some of the ways your life has changed since becoming Ontario’s first poet laureate?
I’m somebody who likes to work and get things done. I like knowing that my gifts and talents can help people. With the poet laureate title, my parents — who felt I was too smart and that my talents could be used elsewhere — got to see the vision that I saw. Part of me feels very humbled by the opportunity, but if I’m being real with myself — knowing who I am and the vision I’ve always had — humbly, I’m not surprised.
Where do you seek inspiration? Is there a poetic process for you?
I’m inspired by the ability to take an idea and manifest it. When I think about some of my favorite poems, it’s because of something that I went through that sparked the thought. Then, there’s the sacred moment of writing it.
I say “sacred” because it’s a journey within, to explore how I feel and process the experience, and then the opportunity to embody the poem and share that in another sacred space with other people. That’s a very beautiful thing.
In terms of process, I really focus on the words. They have a lot of meaning and value. I’m very cognizant of how I can use words to convey a feeling, to strike something. It can be something that’s timeless, but some poems… they’re temporary. I like most of my poems to be timeless and hold value to someone 20 years from now.
This year marks a decade of R.I.S.E Edutainment. What goes through your mind when you think about its journey?
It’s surreal thinking about the journey that it’s taken — the doubts, the challenges, the hardships. But also, there’s a friend I know who met someone through R.I.S.E., got engaged, and they now have three children. I think about my friends who’ve grown and found their voice who are now known internationally. R.I.S.E. has been a launchpad for artists, businesses, opportunities, and friendships.
We’ve given almost a million dollars to artists over the past 10 years. It’s really exciting to know that we’ve been a vessel to be able to pay people when, otherwise, our parents and society say you can’t make money from your art.
When you reflect on your awards and accomplishments, what are you most proud of?
There’s an eight-year-old version of me that used to walk around thinking about speaking to thousands of people. What I’m most proud of is that that eight-year-old boy experienced that vision come to life. I’m proud that I followed my vision, even when people I love and care about told me that this wasn’t a good idea. But I’m glad that they did because if you tell me I can’t do something, I will prove you wrong.
It’s selfish to say, but I do a lot for other people, and I’m starting to recognize that it’s okay to take credit. I never asked for the awards. If I never got the awards, I‘d still do it. The reward for me is knowing that people have met because I tried and risked something.
Marcus Medford | Contributing Writer