Ontario’s first poet laureate, Randell Adjei, says poetry can be more than Shakespeare. He believes it’s a cathartic practice and an opportunity to put your thoughts on paper to look inwards.

Adjei is an author, inspirational speaker, arts educator, and community leader who found a way to inspire and bring change through spoken word. He is also the founder of R.I.S.E. (Reaching Intelligent Souls Everywhere), one of Toronto’s largest and longest-running youth-led initiatives.

“If you walked a mile in my shoes, you know my soul can never be defeated. I’ve got New Balances, they can’t tie me in a race. I stand tall while they stay seated. I’m ten toes down above these concrete streets reaching for higher feats because I know I’ll meet death again soon. But much later, my mother resurrected this rotten apple in my poetry and the fruits of her labour,” he recites in the above video.

The Scarborough-based poet ​​stays loyal to his truth and searches for his poetry in authentic and genuine places. Randell follows the advice of his inspirations, Canadian dub poet, Lillian Allen. “She says, ‘Write for yourself, but edit for other people and you edit it so other people can feel like they’re a part of your journey too, but always write for you because that’s what poetry is about,” he tells Complex. 

We had a chat with Adjei at the Scarborough Bluffs, the poet’s writing spot, to understand more about the meaning of this new position as Ontario’s first poet laureate.

Rendall, can you tell me what this poem represents to you?
To me, that poem represents this idea of speaking our truth, about talking about some of the things we’ve been through and how speaking out can really allow others to feel like they’re being heard. The last line plays with this idea of good shepherds. We spoke and you heard. The idea is that by us speaking, our truth hopefully gives other folks an opportunity to come and speak their own truth or just be enlightened at the end of the day. And I think it’s just my journey, my path, my journey into poetry, and what I want to do with it.

How did you feel when the announcement was made that you were Ontario’s poet laureate?
My new position as poet laureate is quite an exciting thing. I think, for a lot of poets and a lot of artists, it can be a difficult thing, it can be a challenge to really be able to take your poetry and your art out there. I’m hoping to be a beacon and an opportunity for others to be reminded that you can follow your path, you can follow your vision, and that it can manifest. I guess my goal is really to raise the profile of poets across the province. It’s about promoting poetry, arts, and culture around the province as well. I want to inspire, you know? It’s been a tough year for many of us, and I want to use my words to inspire.

For those who don’t know what the poet laureate is, can you explain a little bit about what that title means?
The poet laureate is an independent officer of the Legislative Assembly of Ontario, and it was created in memory of Gord Downie, who was the lead singer of the Tragically Hip. He was someone who really spoke truth about social justice issues and things that were happening, so it was really in his legacy. I see a connection between our work and my goal as a poet laureate. It’s a two-year commitment to your contract that you’re going to be working with the Legislative Assembly. I have the opportunity to travel, spread the message of poetry to different communities across the province. It’s the first time we also have this opportunity to kind of create what it looks like for the future, but I’m hoping to leave a nice benchmark, a good legacy for the next poet laureate to really take it that much further.

Ontario's first poet laureate, Randell Adjei
Image via Complex Original

This is the first time that there’s been a poet laureate that’s been appointed from Ontario—from Scarborough, Toronto. That’s a lot of weight to carry because you’re representing so many communities. What does being the first one from Ontario feel like?
Being the first is never necessarily easy, so being the first poet laureate to represent Scarborough, Toronto, Ontario, has definitely a little bit of pressure, but I don’t really feel like it’s a lot of pressure that builds diamonds. I feel like a lot of the work that I’ve done has really led me to this moment and this opportunity here. I think you’re never given anything you can’t handle. And so, if I wasn’t supposed to be in this position, then I wouldn’t be, but I think to speak to you representing, it’s allowing my poetry to expand a little bit more. Now, when I write, I got to think about the lived experiences of other folks that I may not know of outside of the city. I think there’s just something special about this time, you know, as the poet laureate, this time in Ontario.