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Writer-in-residence shares spoken word journey

By Hannah Scott

Published 2:58 PDT, Thu September 22, 2022

Richmond’s 2022 writer-in-residence, spoken word poet Lindi Nolte, will begin her residency on Saturday (Sept. 24) with a launch event at the Richmond Cultural Centre.

Nolte, who was nine when her family immigrated to Canada from South Africa, has been writing since childhood when her mom gave her a journal.

“I was a new kid in school constantly, and (my mom) found writing to be a really useful tool for her and so she passed that on to me,” says Nolte. “I found some (of my old) journals the other day where there’s some rhyming couplet poems that are really emotional—maybe I was too lazy to write in full sentences, or maybe poetry cut straight to the heart of the matter, but for me it came down to being able to express my experience as a young person.”

Although Nolte continued to write in high school, she never thought anyone would read her work. But one teacher really inspired and helped her fall in love with poetry.

“In university I realized I really enjoy writing poetry, and I switched majors from theatre to English literature,” says Nolte. “(It wasn’t) necessarily to pursue a writing career, but for me at that point it aligned with my interests and things I enjoyed.”

When she discovered poetry slams, which allow her to marry her love of performance with a love of writing, something clicked.

Nolte draws inspiration mostly from the human experience, expressing and unfolding aspects of her own life through words. 

“Having grown up in South Africa as a barefoot kid, from a really young age being able to marvel and wonder at the things around me, puts me in a place of stillness and silence. That place allows me to formulate conversations with myself about the world,” she says.

Retreating to a quiet place free of distractions helps with her inspiration, and Squamish has provided a place of grounding for Nolte. During the pandemic, she also wrote more things for herself rather than aiming to please an audience.

“My extroverted self that loves performing has gotten a lot of space and time over the past few years before the pandemic, and then when the pandemic hit the introvert in me finally got to have a say,” says Nolte.

She also worked on her first spoken word one-woman show, which is a fictional foray into a new genre. Overall, the pandemic proved a fruitful time, with online offerings available to a wider range of people.

Many of Nolte’s poems never see the light of day, although others speak to Nolte and ask to be lifted from the page and heard aloud.

“If I bring every poem out to the world and the audience doesn’t respond, somehow it invalidates that piece,” she says. “A lot of poems that are close to my heart will stay (just) for me, because I don’t know if I need either validation or criticism of those pieces.”

The spoken word community has helped Nolte find a place amid the sometimes rigid rules of poetry.

“Finding spoken word allowed me to feel that page poetry rules don’t apply to me, so I don’t need to follow them. I just need to work out what feels good and sounds good in my body,” she says.

To this day, the feeling of whether or not a poem flows is crucial to Nolte’s process. Sometimes a single line doesn’t sound good, or she trips over words, and that line ends up being cut.

“Definitely to this day I have impostor syndrome with the word ‘poet,’ because to me I’ve always associated it with English literature poetry, which is bestowed upon you from the academic world because you’ve been able to figure out verse, metre, and structure correctly,” says Nolte.

Nolte is grateful for the support of her family despite the challenges that poetry presents. She also works as a high school teacher.

“For a really long time, I thought that the mark of success in a creative pursuit was being able to sustain yourself from that solely,” she says. “I don’t think about it as ‘I have to be only a performer full-time or I’ve failed.’ The thing that I love about poetry is that it’s fun—I think as an adult that we don’t place enough emphasis on fun. I have a niece, and I see how she interacts with the world. When I write it feels like that; the act of writing fulfills me, it’s joyful.”

This is Nolte’s first residency, and she’s planning a variety of activities for Richmondites, including writing circles and a spoken word workshop for teens. She’s considering self-publishing a new poetry book as well.

“I’m also looking forward to perhaps diversifying my genre. Going from spoken word to writing a novel terrifies me, (but) I figure if I have the time I might see what it feels like to write in a different genre and expand my craft in that way.”

Nolte’s residency runs from Saturday (Sept. 24) through Nov. 30. For more information, visit richmond.ca/culture/artists/writerinresidence.htm

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