The Art of Stuttering
CBC dotes on him. He’s earned a Bravo! FACT grant. He’s only 30. And the weirdest? He’s a poet. Jordan Scott is getting some serious attention these days. So what is all the fuss about?
If Jordan Scott’s stutter magically disappeared and he continued to play soccer and rugby, his life could be very different right now. Fortunately, Scott’s stutter stuck around. And as luck would have it, he broke his kneecap at 19 and was forced to stay inside for the summer. It was during that recovery period when Scott began to take his first serious stabs at poetry.
Now, ten years later, the Coquitlam, BC-native has found unexpected success with his second book of poetry called blert, a strikingly original project that explores and expresses how stuttering and poetry can work together in exceptionally unique and conceptual ways. “I could never figure out why someone had never written a book of poetry about (stuttering) yet,” says Scott, “It is so intriguing that a stutter and contemporary poetry share so many characteristics. Like the struggle, ideas of failure, fragment, and sound, and exaggerated physicality.”
Encouraged to explore his stutter and its relationship with language by professor and poet Stephen Collis during his time at Simon Fraser University, Scott continued to write with his verbal disorder (that has become less pronounced since his childhood) in mind.
But performing his poetry to classmates was another matter. After a stint in a remedial class in elementary school (“They didn’t know what to do with me. I learned a lot slower because my verbal skills weren’t up to par”), speech therapy and teasing, Scott’s confidence with public speaking wasn’t exactly high despite his parents always encouraging him to practice speaking in front of audiences.
“The first time I ever read out a poem was for Lisa Robertson in the course she did at The Kootenay School of Writing…I kept putting mine off for weeks and weeks,” he remembers. “Finally she made me read it. I just sat with my head down and struggled through it.”
But when Scott finished, he realized that he actually felt the most comfortable performing in the presence of poets. “From then on, I felt at home with poets. So much of how I speak is tantalizing to aspects of poetry. Like the fragments, stretching the sounds of language to strange permutations and what not.”
After obtaining his Master’s degree at the University of Calgary where worked on blert under the direction of poet Christian Bök, Scott lived in Toronto for two years where blert was published by Coach House Books.
Since its release, blert has become not only a critical success but has garnered the interest of people who generally do not attend poetry readings. Part of the unprecedented attraction towards the charming and unassuming poet may have been due to the major attention he has received: CBC interviews, major newspaper and magazine coverage, support of industry players and a $12,000 Bravo!FACT grant. Not exactly the typical support poets receive in Canada. But since moving back to Vancouver after touring the book, Scott remains grounded. After viewing his Bravo!FACT film (entered for consideration at the Sundance Film Festival), Scott was slightly weirded out. “A lot of my poetry is always so fluid and by that I mean, every time I read it, the sounds and patterns of my stuttering alters and changes,” he says, “To see it in the film form, it is very static. And that reading is always going to remain that way.”
As Scott continues to do readings across the country, he’s realizing how the originality of the work speaks for itself, and for others. “To be honest, I think the subject matter really interests people,” says Scott, “I think more and more people know stutterers or stutter themselves.”
During a Calgary reading, Scott performed in front of an audience that included a 12-year-old boy who suffered from a stutter. When he read the last poem in the book, he said the line:
say nosh cricket merengue, your turn,
“When I said that, (the boy) responded to me in his own stutter in this public space,” remembers Scott, “It was really awesome.”