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A whale in a raindrop: Wakefield Brewster, Calgary’s new poet laureate

By Roog Kubur, April 28 2022—

Wakefield Brewster A.K.A da lyrical pitbull has been announced as Calgary’s 6th poet laureate and the first Black person to receive this title. He is the resident spoken word artist at the Grand Theatre and an artist involved in TD Art Incubator Program at Arts Commons. He is also involved with the Elephant Artist Relief, an organization designed to help artists in times of need. 

Having been considered twice already for the position, Brewster states that “it wasn’t ready for me and I wasn’t ready for it,” in reference to his 2012 and 2020 nominations. Now, in 2022, Brewster can proudly claim the title and has a big vision for how he plans to be a poetic advocate for the next two years. 

“I want to make more of this world fall in love with language,” Brewster says when asked about his goal as the newest poet laureate. The people of Calgary have given him the title “the social poet,” in reference to his subject matter touching on what resonates to them the most. Brewster does not shy away from writing about controversial or triggering material, giving a voice to struggles that people may be going through quietly. 

He describes himself as an advocate for literacy and his vehicle as poetry. 

“I want poetry to show up in places that it may seem like it doesn’t belong, and show them that ‘yes, it does,’” he says. He specified that he hopes this position will give him access to schools so he is able to “interrupt more younger students’ literary evolution.” 

Despite now being a well-established figure in Calgary’s poetic scene, Brewster’s poetic journey began in 1999 in Toronto. He describes this initial journey as “trial by fire.” When Brewster began to push his writing to the forefront of his identity, he enrolled in what he thought to be a “reading” competition, inviting all his friends to watch him read. 

“When the proceedings of it began, I started to get this funky feeling that something I didn’t know was happening,” he says. After being eliminated in the first round, Brewster felt embarrassed, calling it a “bonafide failure.” 

Despite wanting to quit then and there, he spent the next six months researching spoken word poetry, learning the difference between reading and performing. 

“When I finally discovered Saul Williams, I realized I just have to take my rap flow and put it over here. And that’s how ‘da lyrical pitbull’ began.” 

While Calgary may not be known for its poetic contributions, Brewster revels in it. He attributes how much smaller of a city Calgary is compared to Toronto as one of the reasons he was able to flourish. 

“You know the saying ‘big fish, little pond?’ For me, it was more like a big whale in a raindrop,” noting that, at the time of coming to Calgary, Toronto was over eight times in size. 

Brewster has been able to carve his niche in societal spaces where he was least expected, first as a Black man pursuing poetry over rap, and second, by bringing that niche to Calgary. 

Before being a professional poet, Brewster was a classical pianist. This is a part of his identity that remains through his poetry, being credited as the first of the three essential components to what makes his work unique. 

“I don’t sing, but I can move my voice around, and there’s movement because I’ve worked with melody and those 88 keys my whole life,” he says when asked about his classical pianist background. In conjunction with this, he also credits his background in percussion and rap as creating his poetic voice. 

“I’m not the only one, but I’m the only one that does it like me,” he says. 

There couldn’t have been a more apt individual to hold this title. Wakefield Brewster’s love for poetry can be felt through all his work, and he has every intention of spreading the magic of poetry to the rest of the city. He is an advocate for his community, other artists and those who just need to be heard through all his philanthropic endeavours. As the poet laureate, Brewster has now officially become the poet of Calgary’s people and he will be giving a new life to Calgary’s poetic scene. 

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