Slam poet hopes to write “great Canadian novel”

Olivia Dumas considers every one of her poems a labour of love

Student poet Olivia Dumas.
The colourful student poet Olivia Dumas.
With words as vibrant as her red hair, student poet Olivia Dumas, ArtSci ’18, has had a lifelong devotion to verse.
The second-year student says she’s passionate about Gender Studies, feminism and petting stray cats. But it’s poetry that has offered her the most possibilities for self-expression.
 
Growing up, the deepest-rooted abstractions of her mind could be found scrawled on the back of concert tickets and postcards.
 
Dumas said Queen’s Poetry Slam has been supportive of her quest for performance.
 
“There is a sense of solidarity no matter what background you’re coming from, no matter what you’re sharing. Whether it be a really intimate portrayal of a relationship gone wrong or some rant about how your bisexuality isn’t taken seriously,” she said.
 
“No matter what you’re talking about there’s this sense that people in the room are going to get something you’re putting out.”  
 
It’s an uplifting environment that welcomes the controversial and unusual, she said. For her, Queen’s has encouraged empathy and vulnerability, allowing her emotional contemplations and reverie to come to life. 
 
The Journal sat down with Dumas and spoke about her poems, her identity as a poet and the art of performance poetry.
 
Why is poetry your choice of art?
 
Dumas: Because I’ve always been a bit of an exhibitionist. I’ve always been pretty confessional and open about my feelings, and poetry acts as a mode for that to operate. It’s how I can convey my vulnerabilities and my thoughts and my feelings and experiences in a way that can resonate with other people … Poetry, because it offers such an eclectic way to convey what you’re thinking and what you’re feeling in a way that nothing else does. 
 
How does performing your poetry make you feel?
 
Dumas: The slam poetry community at Queen’s is incredibly open and allows you to fuck up and say things that are controversial, or just things that … things that you can really only tell your psychiatrist. My psychiatrist is on vacation and that’s why I’m a poet. It’s adrenaline. I always like seeing how my performance is different from what I imagined when I was writing the piece. Every piece has some sort of inspiration, or multiple inspirations. And I like to see what happens when I perform that and the kinds of reactions I get from the audience. Slam poetry is especially interesting for that, because as you’re saying the words, as you’re delivering the lines you’ve thought about so meticulously, you get a response. Whether that’s laughter, whether that’s, you 
know, gratuitous snapping — it’s very validating. 
 
Where do you hope poetry takes you in the future? 
 
Dumas: I hope to expand my poetry. I make zines. And I’m in the process of publishing a couple of my zines and a couple of my pieces. Right now, I feel like my poetry is very unofficial and a very personal thing. I’m trying to translate that into actual work. I’m reluctant to call my poetry “work”; you know “my work focuses on trauma, identity, all of these things.” I’m reluctant to call it that, but it is in a way.  It’s a labour of love.
 
Who inspires you? 
 
Dumas: There’s this English poet, Warsan Shire. She produces some incredible, visceral work about identity and loss and love, she conveys it in a way that’s so new and so refreshing. She is a major inspiration. Definitely Warsan Shire.
 
What do you hope for yourself in the future? What are you striving towards?
 
Dumas: I am striving towards becoming better. Expanding my interests. Expanding what I’m doing. I would like to get into journalism after school, which is a little different than poetry. Maybe start a punk band. Maybe move to Dawson City, Yukon, we’ll see what happens. Right now, I’m really fixated on moving to the Canadian wilderness and publishing the great Canadian novel. I’ve also gotten really into this movement of fake memoirs. Because people get famous for writing about shit that didn’t happen to them. And that’s exactly what I’m into. I just started writing one and it starts off with me waking up in the back of a U-Haul in Manitoba. Never happened to me, gonna get famous for it!

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