At a local coffee shop, Christopher Tse recounts his history to me—how he shifted from path to adjacent plan, from country to community. Though this is the first conversation I’ve had with him, there is an immediacy to his vulnerability. Tse leans forward when he listens, not to crowd you, but as if to say, “I’m here with you, divulge what you need.”
As an award-winning spoken word poet, Tse’s emotional access is a tool he’s honed over a decade, since his first foray into poetry slams in 2008. In his second year at Carleton for journalism, Tse felt as though he was meandering into a career he didn’t want. He’d gone into journalism for his love of writing—of interrogating himself and his surroundings on the page. In school though, that process lacked the creative license that he loved.
Then Tse began attending slams in the city and quickly found what he’d been missing.
“A collateral benefit of school was living in Ottawa—it had one of the strongest scenes in the country. For whatever reason, the city had amassed this very strong community of spoken word artists.”
Eventually, he began performing and joined Capital Slam. From the get-go, Tse received mentorship from this community of poets. He stepped into seriously competing for the better part of five years. From national slams to the Poetry Slam World Cups in Paris and Brazil, Tse out-spoke and out-wrote his peers at almost every level.
Now, as Jenni House’s latest artist-in-residence, Tse is looking inwards. After time living in Ontario and abroad, Tse longed to come back to his roots on the west coast, and was drawn to the Yukon. Like many who come up here, Tse is acutely aware of his Jack Kerouac-esque narrative, and winks to the romanticism of it all. As he’s settled into Whitehorse, he’s brought this self-aware yet deeply earnest perspective with him. In the quietude of this city, Tse discovered the Jenni House studio in a similar way he did with slams—through an artist friend who shared advice and encouragement.
This September, Tse hopes to use the studio space to confront his positionality. A fifth generation immigrant on Turtle Island, he plans to unravel his family’s history back to the 1800s, with all of the attention to intimacy that he’s brought to past performances. A combination of spoken word laid over music and large-scale visuals, Tse will interrogate his personal, familial experience and responsibility as a settler of colour in the Yukon.
As we wrap up our conversation, Tse stops mid-sentence, chuckles and points to the space over my shoulder through the window behind me. “The car that was just there was an orange beetle. It left and it was replaced by an orange vintage mini. Very odd.” It is this ability to derive poetry from the background that will serve his work at Jenni House.
At the end of this month, details will be provided to witness Tse’s work in a showcase at Jenni House.