Meet Cobra Collins, our Fall Artist in Residence!

We had the chance to sit down with spoken word artist, Cobra Collins, to get to know a little bit more about her. She held a Women’s Poetry Night workshop last month about the act of creating poetry, inviting women to hone their skills or learn new ones.

Tell us a bit about yourself!

I am born and raised in Calgary. I was adopted at a young age though so, technically speaking, I was born in Grande Prairie and I was shipped to Calgary and have lived here most of my life.

How did you get into spoken word?

I’ve always written poetry. I don’t have any formal education in the arts, however, my background is actually Interior Design. So, still creative but, I always pursued a love of poetry. My grandmother was in theatre here in town so, I’ve always been surrounded by artistic folks. I got involved in spoken word, specifically, probably around 2013/2012 covering Spoken Word Fest –  it’s a poetry festival put on by Sheri-D Wilson here in town – for Beat Route Magazine. I hadn’t really seen spoken word in Calgary before. I mean, there’s YouTube videos and stuff like that I was a little familiar with but, seeing it in real life, I realized that there was room for me and a stage that I could take and could feel comfortable on; watching other people get up there was very inspiring.

I started off doing slam poetry – it’s a competitive poetry night where you’re scored from 1 to 10 on your poems and compete with a bunch of other people. It’s kind of ridiculous but, wonderful and it builds really great community. I did that for a couple of years then, in 2015/2016, I was a Calgary Slam Champion! I took a group of 5 other young spoken word artists to Saskatoon and Winnipeg for the Canadian Festival of Spoken Word where we competed nationally across the country with other teams. That was a really wonderful experience and provided a lot of opportunities to branch into other avenues of spoken word as well.

What was the first piece you wrote?

It’s about my family and it’s called All My Relations. It talks about a family tree and all the people that I want to become. It opens up with, “I want to become my mother” and kind of goes through all the various people that I’ve loved that have influenced me to become the woman that I am. Recently, I’ve started to unpack my adoption – I am from a closed adoption – and I’ve started performing that piece again just to remind me of my roots and what that means and that there are various different meanings for family. My work has very much been rooted in family and identity and that process. That was the first poem I wrote specifically for spoken word, to be spoken for an audience to hear versus myself.

Not a lot of us are familiar with the spoken word festival atmosphere. What’s that like?

It is brilliant. The idea that there is enough spoken word poetry in this country to have 22 teams meet up every single year! The competition part of it is weird, it’s always been in discussion as to why we’re competing when this is what brings us all here. But, I think when I talk about a festival like that, for myself, it’s the overwhelming sense of community that you get from being around other people and hearing their stories. I think a lot of people go into spoken word, especially – poetry in general, but specifically spoken word because I think it’s more accessible than a lot of other forms of poetry – because I think the idea of going into a library or a bookstore and people are reading published artists is daunting. Spoken word poetry has the tendency to be a little bit more casual and brings in people that maybe would otherwise shy away from poetry and public speaking as well. The festival is just this really beautiful space where I think that a lot of people that maybe wouldn’t normally have a platform to speak can get up and do so in a safe manner knowing that the audience is there to listen and support. Then, there are workshops and the whole nine yards so, you get to grow as an artist as well, which is really wonderful.

How would you rate Calgary’s spoken word scene in comparison to other cities?

Everywhere is different. You’re definitely going to notice a huge difference between east coast to west coast to prairie, and that in itself is an interesting dynamic to hear. The stories that people are telling are different, how they’re telling them is different. What’s interesting is the issues are all the same, it’s how the stories are being told. Calgary itself, as of the last few years, especially, has gotten a huge spoken word community. We have a ton of nights here in town that are consistently full with new people on stage, which is really wonderful.

I run a night over a Kafe Koi, with another lovely woman called Selena. We’re almost like a first-time stage, because Koi is a very calm, artistic driven atmosphere and very welcoming so we encourage people that may have been to the slam – that I run as well – which is a little bit more daunting because there’s the competition aspect and everyone is yelling and cheering and it’s an event whereas Koi is more of an experience and because it’s so full of new voices week after week which is really important to me.

We have another really beautiful night called “Say Word” that brings in a totally different atmosphere and story as well. So, it’s growing! It’s really wonderful and the voices are really diverse which, for Calgary, sometimes is not easy to see the diversity depending on what spaces you’re in. To know that it’s there and to be cognizant that there are a lot of different stories to be told in this city right now and I think spoken word is allowing a lot of people that opportunity which is wonderful.

How well do you think Calgary’s spoken word scene does to welcome and represent women?

I think, as far as women’s voices and representation, they’re there but we definitely have to try harder to be heard and taken seriously, which is frustrating. However, I don’t think that this is always the case. We have strong women – our team, the last few years has been primarily made up of women. This year is no exception. We’ve got three women on the team, two of which are women of colour – which is important, because those voices need to be heard, especially marginalized groups. I find, there are women and then there are marginalized women…I find we need to shout a little louder maybe but, the women in this community are really cognizant of the need to create and intersectional safe space for everybody to be heard and to be lifted up so, that is the positive for sure.

What are you excited about for your residency here at the Women’s Centre?

First of all, I’m just really humbled to have the experience! I do know a couple of other people that have done the residency as well – the folks over at Femme Wave, another beautiful organization that makes sure women are seen and heard – so, to be a part of that experience and to have that space is really humbling for myself. I’m also a very firm believer that our words can change us, can change things. I’ve seen it. I’ve seen poetry save individuals. I’ve seen great change within our community. I’ve poetry heal and build great friendships. So, for myself, if I can even offer a little bit of that experience back to the community, that would be the least and the most that I can do.

How would you define feminism?

Feminism is equality! I think it has become a word that is so polarized and is still so important. Feminism is being able to have access to the same opportunities that people take for granted. Feminism is not being afraid to walk to your car alone. Feminism is for everybody; I think we get it into our heads that it’s just for women and, it is about women but, I think the big thing is that it is for everybody.

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