It is weird to think of ageism existing in the world of poetry, especially in terms of someone being too old to be taken seriously, but it is alive and well in the subculture of competitive Slam Poetry. In a realm where artists use stanza like swords to chop down the various forms of oppression that exist within society, Ian French represents the enemy. He is white, middle-aged, and comes from a middle-class life. His appearance does not denote struggle, but rather privilege. As such he was immediately dismissed in the minds of many the first time he took to the stage. This all changed when French, under the performing name of “IF”, opened his mouth.
Spitting lyrical fire into the hearts and minds of those who were in attendance, IF not only instantly earned respect in the community, but discovered his true calling in the process. Charting his unlikely rise through the Slam Poetry ranks, IF the Poet is a tale that proves one is never too old to follow your dreams.
Much of Kim Saltarski’s documentary focuses on IF and his mentor, renowned Ghanaian-Canadian poet and recording artist Ian Keteku, as they train in hopes of making it to the World Cup of Slam Poetry in France. This allows Saltarski to not only highlight the struggles IF went through growing up, his ADHD diagnosis only added to his wild ways, but also the hard work needed to make it as a Slam Poet. Whether he is talking about the misguided views towards immigrants, the grief of a parent who has lost their child to police brutality, or simply what the older generation can teach the young, every word, inflection and delivery is scrutinized to ensure that the each poem carries its intended resonance.
Playing much like a Rocky-esque sports films, there is even a shot of IF and Keteku running on the beach reciting poetry, IF the Poet touches on both the dangers of performance anxiety and tough competitors that stand in If’s way. While it would have been nice had Saltarski spent more time exploring the eclectic group of poets at the World Cup, the film only provides surface level insight on a few in its short running time, he does a solid job of drawing out the competitive tension to the very end.
IF the Poet is a solid portrait of a man whose perseverance and courage are as inspirational as the poetic words that flow from his mouth.
IF the Poet airs tonight on CBC’s Firsthand at 9 PM. Full poems by IF’s can be found on the Firsthand website.