photos: Jeremy Loveday is working to bring a progressive voice to Victoria's city council. Photos: Adam Gilmer.

Poetic justice

Jeremy Loveday: slam poet, city councillor, and former punk ragamuffin

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Jeremy Loveday is a busy man these days. The slam poet, youth worker, and Victoria city councillor is also an avid camper and environmentalist. By the time we sat down for our interview, he’d just returned to shore after participating in Turning the Tide: Peoples’ Paddle for the SalishSea. The five-day canoe journey between Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands aims to build solidarity to protect the Salish Sea from tankers, pipelines, and tar sands.

Following his election to Victoria’s city council last November under the slogan “Affordable, Sustainable, and Vibrant in Victoria,” Loveday has been working to implement the pillars of his campaign. He’s focused on projects related to affordable housing, sustainability and food security, and support for arts, culture, and youth.


Outside of city council chambers, Loveday is an accomplished slam poet. He is the co-creator of the City of Victoria’s Youth Poet Laureate Program as well as the founder and director of Victorious Voices, Victoria’s secondary school slam poetry championships. Loveday is passionate about social justice and self-expression, and leads workshops on topics ranging from writingto “creative non-violent masculinity.” To that end, his spoken-word poem “Masks Off” calls on men to talk honestly about gender violence. The poem went viral in late 2013.

This fall you can catch Loveday at the Sidney and Peninsula Literary Festival, which runs from Oct. 2-4. In the meantime, here’s a condensed version of our interview, where we explored the unlikely intersection of slam poetry and municipal politics.

Megaphone: How did you first get involved in the areas of politics and poetry?

Jeremy Loveday: “They both go back a long time, to when I was a teenager. I was a little punk rocker. I’d put on shows, and at that time I was exposed to a lot of political activism. A lot of anti-racist action, saving the old-growth forest, the anti-globalization movement, and a lot of criticism of unbridled capitalism. I was pretty sensitive and I felt overwhelmed by the information that I was learning. I had a teacher, Anita Roberts, who exposed me to spoken word.

“From there it took until near the endof university where I studied politics, but then I started using spoken word as a tool to express my political opinions. The first poems I wrote were about stopping the Iraq war and the Afghan war; it actually took years of writing only political work before I started to write any personal poetry. So spoken word originally was a tool for politics. They really go hand in hand for me, and now as an elected official I’m trying to figure out the life balance so they can continue to go hand in hand.”

MP: In your TEDx Victoria talk you mentioned that when your poem about gender violence went viral online, a space opened up for you to step into a leadership role. A year later, you were elected to Victoria city council, and are now involved in leadership in a new form. Can you speak to how your view of leadership has evolved through this process?

JL: “I’m still working to live up to my own words and ideals in terms of being more than a bystander and calling out sexist or violent language or actions when I see them, and in that way trying to be a leader in my own life.

“I know that a lot of people, when they elected me, they elected me for what I was doing in the community before. So that’s [annual high school slam poetry championship] Victorious Voices, that’s speaking on important issues in a vulnerable way, and that’s the type of leadership they wanted. So now I’m trying to figure out: how do I make that happen? What does that look like?

“I still see my role as an amplifier for voices and as a facilitator of community organizing. I feel that my role as a leader involves being a good listener but also using my voice in any way that I can to call out injustice when I see it.

“You don’t forget the feeling of having people really listen to you. I think that is key when dealing with any population—whether they are people who are un-housed or housed or young or old. There have to be avenues for everyone to have their voices heard and valued and taken into consideration when decisions are being made.”

“Perhaps all politicians should have to take some art classes, or at least have a journal. I think that creating helps you see the world in a different way; you can think creatively about problems and try to come up with creative solutions.”

 

MP: As an artist yourself, can you give your perspective on the importance of politicians supporting the arts community in Victoria?

JL: “I think the role of politicians is to build healthy communities and healthy people, and I think that healthy communities involve the arts. Arts are helping to make our city vibrant and to give young people a sense of community—[so] they want to stay and build families and settle down in Victoria, so it’s not a place where young people leave after university.

“As well, I think that to have someone who’s in an elected position then go to an open mic and talk about whatever it is, love or heartbreak, mental health issues, whatever that personal issue is, is going to normalize it and help create new space for those conversations to be happening more often.

“Perhaps all politicians should have to take some art classes, or at least have a journal. I think that creating helps you see the world in a different way; you can think creatively about problems and try to come up with creative solutions.”

“We need a national housing strategy. We need the province to step up and get year-round funding for shelters, and we need the province to be funding mental health and addiction services.”

 

MP: Do you think that Victoria is an accessible, affordable place to live?

JL: “Essentially, no, I don’t think Victoria is accessible or affordable. Especially the city itself; we’re the heart of a region and I think there are accessible and affordable options within the region, but within the city of Victoria, no.“We’re doing [what we can] in a vacuum of leadership from the provincial and federal governments. We need a national housing strategy. We need the province to step up and get year-round funding for shelters, and we need the province to be funding mental health and addiction services.”

MP: You have spoken out about many issues through both poetry and politics. What advice might you have for people, especially young people, still trying to find their voices?

JL: “My advice is just for people to speak their truth, rather than the truth. Speak from your own experience, from your own heart. People so rarely do it, that when people hear that they react to it so strongly that you’ll find support.”

MP: What are you excited about in the future?

JL: “When I got elected I told myself I would give myself six months of working however long it takes—60, 70 hours a week, whatever it is at city council—and after that point I would reevaluate and sort of see how I can maintain a level of still doing the poetry and the youth work and trying to get a little more life balance going.

“Now it’s been eight months and I’m finally starting to have those reflective moments.

“So I’m not entirely sure what comes next, in terms of poetry at least. I would love to release a video poem in time for the federal election, and maybe that could be about housing, to tie it all together [laughs].”

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