The last time Sonnet L’Abbé performed at the Port Theatre there was no one in attendance. This time around, there could be hundreds of people staring up at them.
On July 23 the Nanaimo poet and VIU professor makes their return to the Port stage as part of the venue’s Discovery series highlighting emerging local artists. The concert will be live-streamed and there are up to 400 in-theatre tickets available.
While L’Abbe is already an established poet, over the past few years they’ve picked up the guitar and starting writing and performing music as well. In November they recorded a song at the Port as part of the city’s Reimagine Nanaimo campaign.
However, L’Abbé isn’t completely new to music. They played piano in high school and even entertained dreams of becoming a concert pianist before being talked out of it. They said, “now that I’m doing this, I feel like I’m even more in touch with the impulse that drove me to write poetry in the first place.”
“The emotions and the personal experiences that were driving that impulse needed to be felt more deeply, and I couldn’t get there with just sitting down and writing something on a page,” they said. “Actually being in a room with other human bodies and trying to connect that way has been really cool.”
L’Abbé said they’re still figuring out the difference between writing a poem and writing a song. They said so far writing a poem and putting it to music has been working, but writing to perform and say something aloud in song is not the same as writing for the page. Also, “there’s more repeating yourself in songs.”
“The experience that I imagine when I’m writing a poem is someone sitting down comfortably and diving into a book,” L’Abbé said. “And so I find that writing a song involves going out and testing it and seeing how it feels to sing and seeing how it feels to look at other people and be producing that much sound in a room with those words.”
L’Abbé was also motivated to turn their attention to music after publishing their last book, the “huge, dense, long” erasure poetry collection Sonnet’s Shakespeare. L’Abbé said they felt they had gone as far as they could go creatively in poetry for the moment and “I needed to do something a bit less heady and more in my body.”
“It feels like this is what I’ve been trying to do the whole time, I just wasn’t playing an instrument at the same time,” they said. “And so it’s even more deeply satisfying when it feels like I’ve gotten it right.”
WHAT’S ON … Sonnet L’Abbé performs at the Port Theatre, 125 Front St., on Friday, July 23 at 7:30 p.m. In-person tickets are $27, $12 for live-stream. Available from the Port Theatre.