Desiree Mckenzie

Desiree Mckenzie's picture

Desiree Mckenzie (she/her) is an award-winning poet, arts educator, national poetry slam champion, and photographer from Toronto. Her poetry has been featured in CBC’s Poetic License series, VIBE Arts NExT Exhibit, When Sisters Speak, and Clearco Financial’s International Women’s Day Campaign. In 2020, she was awarded the JAYU iAM Arts for Human Rights Award recognizing creatives doing exceptional work where the arts and human rights intersect. As a facilitator, she works with organizations like Unity Charity, JAYU, Poetry In Voice, and VIBE Arts, bringing poetry into classrooms and community spaces across the country. In March 2021, she released her EP, Wet Hair, now available on streaming platforms. 

Did you read poetry when you were in high school? Is there a particular poem that you loved when you were a teenager?: 

Yes! I especially watched alot of slam poetry (Def Jam, Button Poetry) on YouTube. My most favourite poem (and a huge reason why I began writing in the first place) is Sarah Kay's “If I should have a daughter” or alternatively titled “B.” This poem honestly changed my life and showed me how poetry can be used to explore ideas that feel bigger than us, and bring them down to earth. This was followed by the discovery of Phil Kaye, Shane Koyczan, Stacey-Ann Chin, and poets in the Toronto community when I began going to slams featuring Britta B., David Delisca, and other poetry legends of the city. 

When did you first start writing poetry? And then when did you start thinking of yourself as a poet?: 

I began writing poetry in grade 6, when the boy I liked didn't like me back! I found it easy to communicate my feelings around this heartbreak through stanza rather than just regular conversation, so I would say that's when I felt like a poet. The moment in which I knew I was a poet was when I performed and was approached by people afterward, saying they felt me and felt a connection to what I had to say. This not only affirmed that I had a way with words, but I could communicate with people in ways I never thought I could and build relationships with people just from performance. That's what I felt poets I loved before I started did for me. 

What do you think a poet’s “job” is?: 

I think a poet's "job" is to break the stigma's around poetry (it has to rhyme, it has to be “deep,” etc.,) and simply let their love for the craft shine through. The goal should always be to just give students another way to express themselves, and show them how it can be done in so many diverse ways through poetry. It should be treated as an open door, that people can step through, any way they want! 

If you had to choose one poem to memorize from our anthology, which one would it be?: 

If I had to choose a poem to memorize from the Poetry In Voice anthology it would be "These Poems, She Said” by Robert Bringhurst. I love the form of how it's written, and the descriptive language used along with repetition. I think it's a beautiful analysis of love, and what makes love unconditional, true and real.