On Nov. 22, MacEwan hosted a spoken word event with Shima Aisha Robinson, Edmonton’s tenth poet laureate. It was a familiar visit for the seasoned poet as Robinson is a MacEwan alumna. She graduated in 2019 with a bachelor of arts, majoring in sociology with a creative writing minor.
The poet laureate stood at the front of the class with the casual patience of a sophisticated speaker. An eager crowd shuffled from the hallway into seats. Chris Hutchinson, the event coordinator, began the event with a land acknowledgement and an enthusiastic introduction. Then, Robinson unclasped ringed fingers and began to speak. She sported a MacEwan sweatshirt and a keychain with eight different lanyards with local affiliations. Over the next hour, Robinson performed three poems, cushioned between stories from her career.
Robinson has been a part of Edmonton’s poetry scene for 20 years. She writes under the pen name Dwennimmen, an ancient African Adinkra symbol. It signifies strength, humility, learning, and wisdom — all traits she aims to exemplify. Fittingly, the Adinkra symbol is the album picture of Horn (2016), Dwennimmen’s self-published debut book of poetry.
Dwennimmen introduced herself with help from her performance of “Instrumental” , the first of the 22 tracks on Horn. She said, “The pen was instrumental in seizing me…” The track is available to listen on her self-owned publishing and production website Denseverse. It was an explicit choice for Robinson to call her verse dense. Her poetry warrants rereading. It is challenging and captivating. It implores the speaker and listener alike to dig their heels into the verse and dissect its layers.
Robinson was born and raised in Edmonton, or amiskwaciy-wâskahikan, across different Southside neighbourhoods. She built her practice through observing and listening to local music, and taking pensive walks. In high school, creatives like Saul Williams and Sarah Jones inspired her to consider how she wanted to use her voice. Her first introduction to Edmonton’s poetry scene was between 2002 and 2003, thanks to her prior manager at what used to be a Chapters on Whyte Ave. Robinson says that at work, she could get lost writing lines of poetry on the back of receipts. She dropped out of her U of A studies to pursue poetry and begin a near decade-long stretch of writing and performing slam poetry. True, the slam poetry scene is competitive. But, it does provide access to stage time that helps poets like Dwennimmen develop their performance chops. She focused on her own expression through longform free verse. Though recently, she has incorporated freestyling and a more metered verse.
Dwennimmen’s works consider narratives of decolonization, resistance, matriarchal influences, and warriorship. As an example, she spoke of the Maroon people of Jamaica, and the multicultural phrase, “out of many, one people.” These narratives are explored in the next two poems Dwennimmen performed. Both are from her chapbook BELLOW which was published in 2022 by Glass House Press. The Bellow Project is an album with a spoken performance from Dwennimmen accompanied by musical improvisation from Dam magpies, a local artist. In the event’s second poem, “Underbelly of An Origin Story,” Dwennimmen explores topics like decolonial nationhood, speaking truth to power, and growing into the awareness of being a guest on Indigenous lands. Following the poem, Dwennimmen performed the event’s last poem, “Good Guest.”
Robinson was appointed as Edmonton’s tenth poet laureate on June 30, 2023. During her two-year tenure, Robinson is expected to produce three works per year and serve as Edmonton’s literary ambassador, both in and out of the city. Robinson has plans to collide Edmonton’s creative communities together. Her plans for a series of events in Edmonton’s central libraries is in line with her passion for the organization of space to speak poetry. She also intends to boost Edmonton’s hip-hop culture, and plans to drop a mixtape at the end of her tenure which demystifies the lines between music and poetry. Apart from her work as Edmonton’s tenth poet laureate, Robinson works as the artistic producer for Edmonton’s Poetry Festival, and as the learning and outreach manager for the Fringe Theatre. She is also pursuing her master’s of arts in community engagement at the University of Alberta.