You might not think The Silence of the Lambs and Little Red Riding Hood have much in common, but as Calgary poet Tyler B. Perry sees it, the works are indeed very similar. He explains that this is because the stories share many of the same sinister undertones. Perry, a high school english teacher at Bishop Grandin who moonlights as a poet, explores this dark and sadistic side of children’s fairy tales in his latest book, Belly Full of Rocks.
Father to a nine and seven-year-old Perry, 36, grew up listening to and reading the countless Grimm’s fairy tales that were littered throughout his father’s bookshelf. Revisiting those stories he once adored as a child as an adult with his own children, he was fascinated by the simplicity of the tales — a feature he found a hidden complexity in.
“You see these stories 20 years later, and you’ve lived so much more and you’ve lost some of your naivety, and you realize things maybe aren’t quite as simple as they came across to you as a kid, “ Perry explains, “Maybe the Wolf isn’t entirely evil? Maybe Red Riding Hood has her own sadistic side? Maybe that third pig didn’t have to treat the wolf so cruelly?”
Enthralled by the dark and iniquitous nature of literature since he was a high school student, Perry cites Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie as one of his major influences, among other contemporary poets.
“[There’s] something about what it said about the way we live our lives and the purpose for art... and I always feel like literature has been a way for me to interpret the world, and my own life,” says Perry.
Dark and distorted literature continued to incite Perry’s imagination, discovering the infamous Charles Bukowski while sitting in coffee shops and hearing the song Bukowski by alternative-rock band Modest Mouse.
“It was poetry I had never seen before,” he recalls, “There was no regular form to it, no rhyme pattern. It was just free verse poetry, and it just seemed that he wrote the way he wanted to. [Bukowski] broke free from any conventions that other poets had. I wanted to do that.”
Although English literature was always Perry’s first love, he delayed a career in writing to become a Red Seal chef right out of high school. But after a couple of years in the cooking industry, Perry was moved to re-evaluate his situation, ultimately deciding to pursue an undergraduate degree in education at the University of Alberta.
"Poetry is like jazz. There’s some people who just love it and are very passionate about it, while most people could probably take it or leave it." -Tyler B. Perry
Though he later completed a master’s degree in creative writing at the University of British Columbia, it wasn’t until Perry began teaching full-time that he decided to act on his passion for writing. Drawing on his initial experiences in the classroom, his first book of poetry was published in 2010, titled Lessons in Falling.
“You go into teaching with a lot of ideals, and then you realize it’s not as easy to be the teacher that you wanted to be. So I found that writing poetry was an area where I could basically just do whatever I wanted,” says Perry.
“That was a good place for me to sort of reflect and think about teaching in a way that I didn’t really feel as free to do in a work day. And that became a whole book.”
In an effort to fully engage his students in poetry, Perry also began competing in local poetry slam competitions, eventually joining the team which went on to compete at the National Spoken Word Festival in Ottawa. This new found recognition in the poetry community garnered him a nomination for the inaugural Calgary Poet Laureate in 2012.
With the recent launch of Belly Full of Rocks on Oct. 6, Perry says he has considered making poetry his full-time work. However, given the underground nature of his art form, he is skeptical of the financial prospects.
“Very few people are ever going to make a living off of being poets, just like how very few people make their livings from being musicians. Poetry is like jazz. There’s some people who just love it and are very passionate about it, while most people could probably take it or leave it.”
On the other hand, Perry adores teaching and believes his experiences in his day to day life directly coincide with his writing, though he would love more time to pursue what he is passionate about.
“I’ve stuck to poetry more than any other genre because it is the kind of writing that fits into my life the most. That’s not to say maybe I’d write a novel if I didn’t have to work. You've got to live and write; you can’t really just write.”
- By Colin Macgillivray