Nelson slam poet Laforge attended a Shane Koyczan spoken word performance while he was a high school student at L.V. Rogers. Though he’d dabbled with poetry over the years, he hadn’t yet found a fulfilling creative outlet. The show overwhelmed him.
“I’d been scribbling words and rhymes since I was 10 or 11, but I had no idea where I could go with it or what I could do with it. It was so inspiring to see him, but also so overwhelming I didn’t write for like six or eight months because I figured I could never write something that good,” he said.
Laforge eventually got over these feelings, and after getting invited to a slam competition in 2009 he found himself hooked on the adrenaline rush of performing in front of a crowd. He said it’s the raw vulnerability of the art form that he cherishes, and engaging with the work has been hugely beneficial throughout his various mental health and substance abuse issues over the years.
Two years ago he suffered an episode in which he ended up in a psychiatric unit, and it’s his art that’s helping him to recover and remain sober.
“I’m working every day to make sure I don’t fall back into that place where I’m sleeping in the dog park at Lakeside, wandering the streets of Baker at all hours. The best part of poetry for me is that it’s cleansing. Once it’s out of you and on a piece of paper, or on a computer screen, it’s not weighing you down anymore.”
Now sober and clean after years of self-destruction, he hopes to be a positive role model for those who have reached similar depths.
“I don’t think anyone can every really understand the crazy places I went to, but if I can give them just a sense of what it’s like, just a piece of it, that’s what I want,” he said.
Slam poetry council member Jonathan Robinson said Laforge narrowly won the designated spot to Vancouver’s national individual slam championships over busking poet Zaynab Mohammed at their recent competition.
Both Robinson and Laforge praised Mohammed’s work, which they say is indicative of the diversity within the Kootenay scene.
“The first time I went to a slam, the content and delivery I’ll never forget. They were touching on addiction, homelessness, substance abuse. As someone who comes from a background of struggling with all that, it was incredible,” said Laforge.
Robinson said Laforge’s work is emotionally potent.
“Poetry saves lives. It connects people intimately in ways you can’t have with other people. If you’re homeless you can’t go to a concert, but you can come to a slam. And you could probably go up on stage.”
Laforge said much of his work remains private, but he shares the pieces that have messages he’d like others to embrace.
“When I was around 17 a lot of my work was based around how suicidal I was, and how I was tempted to take my own life. But then I thought about the impact it would have on my family, my friends, my community. In Grade 12 that was a message I wanted to share: ‘Life will get better, you can get through it’.”
His hope is that his outlook will encourage others, and also inspire them to jump on stage at one of their upcoming performances.
“Don’t give up hope. I found my hope and my own way, and so can you.”
The Nelson Poetry Slam is currently held on the second Sunday of every month at 7 p.m. at John Ward Coffee. Lately the event has been so popular they’ve been pointing a speaker at the patio for the audience assembled outside.
Robinson, who also works as a videographer and runs the YouTube Channel ilovedjwho, said he’s planning a collaborative video with Laforge. He recently filmed and produced the debut track by local band Sofiella Watt and the Huckleberry Bandits.