Britta B., 2020 Finalist

Britta B. is a Kingston-born, Toronto based poet, spoken word performer, emcee and artist educator. Her works have featured in print, in sound and onstage across North America. She is an alumna of the Toronto Arts Council Leaders Lab and Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity Spoken Word Residency. Britta is currently a Creative Writing MFA candidate at University of Guelph.

Britta B. gave us some insight to her work as a poet, spoken word performer and more. 

Original photo courtesy of Gilad Cohen. Artwork by Amber Williams-King.
You tackle a number of different subjects in your poetry such as Blackness, mental wellness, women’s empowerment and domestic violence. What has beenthe impact of these themes on audiences?

Truth and transparency have been anchors in my work – I often explore to create from a personal and confessional point of view. I think by trying to tell my truth in art, the attempt becomes a bit infectious – people begin to reflect and want to express themselves more freely. I hear from women, especially young Black women and women of colour, that my work resonates with them because they can see themselves reflected in my poetry. I think most audiences can relate to my pursuit of self-affirmation and respect. The most rewarding response is when I learn that a work of mine has inspired someone else to write or has empowered another woman to believe in herself.

Much of your work is performance based but it is also featured in print form. What are the strengths of both approaches?

With performance, I can work the room and shift the temperature. I know my vibe and my flex. I’m comfortable with seeing the expressions on people’s faces in real-time, hearing them fidget, applaud or hold their breath. With poetry in print form, I can work techniques, forms, language and even the page itself. 

I think some folks would be surprised to learn that although I have a big stage presence, I’m terrified of sharing my poetry in print. For me, a performance is low stakes because it’s memorized and I have freedom to improvise. In print, however, it lives unalterable. As an artist, I love to challenge myself and right now, I’m most excited about experimenting and developing my voice on page. It’s exciting to see my artistry evolve.  

You are currently a Creative Writing MFA candidate at University of Guelph. Are there any valuable takeaways that have informed your creative approach that you can share with us?

Yes, read twice as much as you write! No matter your artform, study and explore the works of other artists twice as much as you create. I’ve learned that the more points of reference I have going into a project, the more poems I create. 

Study with a mentor. I think it’s really important to receive critical feedback from someone you trust and admire at the same time, someone who has more experience and exposure than you.

Surround yourself with artists who have different approaches. This program has introduced me to writers of genres beyond poetry and I’ve learned the value of spending time and craft-sharing with as many creative thinkers and writers as I can.   

You identify as a teaching artist. How important is it to you pass on your knowledge and art form to others?

Life as a teaching artist is very fulfilling and how I give back to community.  I’ve been very fortunate to have several teachers in my hometown that I can call up and say, ‘thank you for having a positive impact on my life’. My high school basketball coach, Andrea Blackwell, is the best example of someone who has taught me the value of community and using your power to empower somebody else. If I can impact someone half as much as she has impacted me… 

As a teaching artist and mentor, it’s important to me to bring shine and knowledge to folks who are often left out or least likely to be considered for opportunities. Folks like me who have to work harder than others to succeed. The more I teach, the more acutely I understand what propels me to write. 

What does it mean to you to be nominated for the Emerging Artist Award?

It was a huge honour to be on the receiving end of that phone call… 

In a city that is exploding with creativity and thousands of artists, to be selected as a finalist and represent this category as a poet is extremely special. When I was introduced to spoken word, my biggest influence was d’bi young – who is a recipient of this award. It’s a full circle moment. I expect another next gen. poet reading this now will be inspired to keep writing and one day soon be celebrated for their achievements and artistic endeavors.