“Sorry I’m late,” says Sheri-D Wilson, as she pushes her dark glasses up behind her ears. “I’ll just grab a coffee, and we’ll get to it.”
A very down to earth intro for a someone usually classified as “a wild woman.” Actually, Sheri-D Wilson has been described as everything from a weird DNA-rendering of the likes of Leonard Cohen, Jim Carroll and Patti Smith, to generic terms like “dramatic” and “innovative” to an “action” poet. All of the descriptions fail to hit the mark because really, Wilson is unlike anything else out there.
Drawing from the beatnik tradition, Wilson’s poetry and performance shatters sexual taboos, the human condition and traditional relationship constructs. Her poetry isn’t rhythmic, it is about the rhythm.
“When you say an eight syllable line, the rhythm is already set–after that the rhythm follows itself,” says Wilson, as she takes a sip of her latté. “I think the form is created by the poem itself… I’m totally into meter in the sense of music and the musical side of words. Trying to fit words within beats you’ve decided upon previously, seems really anal to me. Although I’ve read brilliant, brilliant poetry written like that, I don’t write like that.”
The fact that her poetry isn’t linear, that it often touches upon the absurd, only aids Wilson in breaking convention, as does her fearlessness about tackling subject matter. Nothing is sacred to Wilson, and she affirms this is her latest work, The Sweet Taste of Lightening. Ranging from rants like “Fast For-wards,” in which she trashes an “alternative” voice in Calgary to the fantastic “Conversations with a Cunt,” in which a character is engulfed by labia, the material leaves the reader’s head spinning with perverse images and emotions. Her language usage remains unapologetic, guttural, savage and sexual.
It’s this unorthodox style that brings Wilson to the Banff/Calgary PanCanadian WordFest. Interesting considering Wilson used to hate this Cowtown. Self-loathing is as much a part of the Calgarian identity as bolo ties and cowboy boots, and so, at age 17, Wilson embarked on a plan: get the hell out of dodge.
“I left this place in a ‘fuck you, fuck you small town’ mentality, thinking it was the most hideous place on earth,” says Wilson.
While Wilson came back for a stint of performance art education at Mount Royal College, she remained aloof from the town she loathed. She became an explorer and traveller, living everywhere from Los Angeles to New York. Three years ago, Wilson found herself drawn to Calgary after working in London, England.
“Exotica in England is like the Calgary Stampede. The very things that I thought were bullshit when I left here, became the most exotic thing. They didn’t want to hear my New York poems, they wanted to hear about pow wows. And so I came back here after living in London and it was just like, ‘this place is great, it’s like an undiscovered country.’ I love it here.”
While Calgary remains her base of operations, she still travels frequently and lives a kind of “stuffless” existence that affords her this lifestyle. She despises materialism and sees the normal conventions of marriage, children and consumerism as unnecessary. She practices a spiritual materialism that strives for the growth of the soul, achieving the kind of life where you “function on an entirely different level.” Despite photographic evidence to the contrary, Wilson’s outlook is simple and has nothing to do with religion.
“It’s spiritual,” she remarks. “You live each day to its fullest and the discovery of each day is possible. I think that way, the magic of youth is always with you too. You’re always, as Leonard Cohen says, trying new things and always open to the possibilities of the moment instead of saying, ‘I’ve been there, done that.’
I can’t understand that mentality. I’ve never ‘been there, done that.’ I’m always discovering the new thing that I’m in at the time.”
This kind of perspective lead to Wilson’s book deal while living in Vancouver.
“When I was about 26, I did a presentation on Valentine’s Day for 14 friends. I got this wonderful bedroom that a friend of a friend had. It was a huge thing, with fireplaces, and I moved everything out of the place except for this bed and I did this erotic piece.”
One of her friends in attendance asked to go to another poetry reading, and from there, she was invited to yet another, and yet another.
“And then somebody was at that gig and said, ‘I want to publish your work.’ And I was flattered, I said, ‘Okay.’ And he says, ‘How many poems do you have?’ And I say, ‘Lots.’ And then I went home and wrote them, like a frantic maniac because I had to get these poems written for this book.”
Vancouver allowed Wilson to explore theatre, and it was actually her acting that supported her as a writer. At that time, she belonged to alternative theatre group–really, it was more underground. They performed more traditional repertoire à la Shakespeare a couple of times a year, selling tickets in night clubs. Writers themselves, the three remained vehemently true to text. Instead, they updated the settings, added music and brought it “up to tempo.”
“It was insane. It was completely run on drug money. Our audience all had hair standing up really high and it was like, ‘Could you remove your hair please? I can’t see.’ Everybody was, at that time, pierced and tattooed, and that was way before it became commercial or mainstream. We used to have girls walking around with their trays, saying, ‘Cigarettes. Cocaine.’ It was all drugs in warehouses.”
While drugs are not as prevalent in Wilson’s stage performances, or her personal life for that matter, the kind of fierce energy she commits to performance remains. Her readings, while outrageous, are fueled by an intense spiritual belief.
“This may sound quite ooga-booga, but I think when you’re doing poetry, all poets that have lived, do live or will live, move through you, and for me, it’s this incredible joy,” says Wilson. “You get the sense that time is simultaneous and your filling out your body and your totally present and you’re living in the moment. When I perform, I don’t think about it much, but I do always do a prayer before I do my poems: ‘This is for all the poets. I only represent a small portion, I am small, this is my family.’ It’s not really about the audience, it’s about the family, the simultaneous time. It must sound really Shirley MacLaine and esoteric, but it is for me.”
At times, Wilson enters a trance-like state on stage where written text overflows into improvisation on her work. Her actual writing process, however, is more structured, more personal.
“A good story, you got to write it before you tell it too many times because it also wears itself out. I know if I tell a story to a whole bunch of people… I wear the story out so the magic of the story is dissipated, it’s watered down.”
Wilson does remain open and frank about her life, however, even to the point of sharing tawdry secrets.
“I’m a connoisseur of pornography and live sex shows… That’s not really a big secret. I’m a closet New Yorker, but people know that. One big secret is that my biggest dream is to win the barrel racing event at the Calgary Stampede. That’s my present complete goal.”
Currently, Wilson is also working on a stage adaptation of Lightening for Sage Theatre to be performed in the Big Secret Theatre this May. She is still constantly freelancing, along with working on a very secret poetry book she’ll release in two years.
Until then, you can catch Sheri-D at the Uptown Stage’s Poetry Bash at 9:30 p.m. on Fri., Oct. 15 in Calgary or at the Dining Hall in the Banff Centre for the Arts at 9:30 p.m. on Sat., Oct. 16.