Tyler B. Perry is a Calgary poet who teaches high school English and creative writing. He is one of the organizers of Can You Hear Me Now?, the Alberta provincial junior high and high school poetry slam. Tyler has performed his poetry to audiences across Canada and as far away as Japan. He is the author of two previous collections of poetry: Lessons in Falling (B House Publications, 2010) and Belly Full of Rocks (Oolichan Books, 2016), and his newest book is forthcoming with Frontenac House in fall 2020. He holds a MFA in Creative Writing from the University of British Columbia. He writes mainly lyrical, narrative free verse poems, but has been known to experiment with forms on occasion. The subjects of his poems range from his job as a teacher, to retellings of fairy tails (in Belly Full of Rocks), to nature, family, human connections. His major influences include but are not limited to: Patrick Lane, Lorna Crozier, Jack Gilbert, Tom Wayman, Gary Geddes, Al Purdy, Bronwen Wallace, P.K. Page, Susan Musgrave, and Charles Bukowski.
I was largely unaware of poetry when I was in high school, which is unfortunate, as I would have benefited greatly from reading it. There are many poems I've read since high school that I would love to show to my high school self. Some that come to mind are "For the young who want to" by Marge Piercy, "Thanks" by W.S. Merwin, and "Waiting and Finding" by Jack GIlbert. I could go on, but I'll stop there.
I started writing poetry in university, after discovering that the world of poetry existed. I mostly read as widely as I could at this time, and played around with writing the odd poem here and there. It wasn't until I was teaching junior high language arts and had to help students read and write poetry that I started writing poems of my own, in earnest. In fact, my first book (Lessons in Falling) is composed mostly of poems written during my first few years teaching, about the experience of being in a junior high school.
I'm not sure when I started to think of myself as a poet. Probably when I first started sending my work out to journals and magazines in hopes that they would publish it, and definitely once I landed (after multiple rejections) my first publication in a small, local literary magazine called The Prairie Journal.
The poet's job is to build experience through language. A poet strives to become as familiar with the feel and texture of words as a carpenter is with wood, as intimate and careful with language as a surgeon is with the internal organs of the human body. A poet treats language as a physical thing with which to create, as the only raw material of their craft. A poet obsesses over sound, implication, connotation, ambiguity. A poet strives for precision, but relies on the endless possibilities of meaning held by each syllable. A poet is a perpetual apprentice of their trade: their job is to never stop questioning the world they live in and the words they use to perceive it, to question the meanings and sensory effects of words, to never stop learning, to listen carefully, observe closely, ponder deeply, question incessently. The poet's job is to read, to read, to read. And, of course, the poet's job is to write poems.
So far I have memorized "The Second Coming" by W.B. Yeats, "The Knowing" by Connie Fife, and "Not Waving But Drowning" by Stevie Smith. The first I chose because it's one of the first poems I studied in university, one of the first poems that made me truly appreciate what can be done with language. I was tired of having to look it up every time I wanted to quote it, so thought it would be a good one to memorize. I love the powerful imagery in the poem, the slow, ominous movements of the beast, the circling birds, and the tension of the imminent chaos that we're all heading towards (or perhaps are already caught in). I'm glad I have it in my head now, so I can quote it whenever I want to.
"The Knowing" I chose because of its richness of imagery, its intimacy with the world, and the powerful rhythms of the language. It contains so much beauty. I found this one quite challenging to memorize, but well worth the effort.
"Not Waving But Drowning" I chose because, it captures so much resonance and truth about the human condition in such deceptive simplicity. It works equally on literal and metaphorical levels. I also have a strong personal and emotional connection to this poem, so having it in my memory to call up any time is comforting. I often recite it to myself for comfort, and as a reminder of the preciousness of life, and of the tenderness of the human spirit. It reminds me to hug my children. Because of my strong connectino with the poem, I think it only took me about twenty minutes to memorize.
I think my next poem might be "A Breakfast For Barbarians" by Gwendolyn MacEwen. This poem is such a sumptuous feast of language. I just love everything about this poem.