Omar Farah remembers he was in grade 11 when he wrote and performed his first poem.
His teacher was immediately impressed and he ended up performing the piece again for a local news station, which is how Edmonton’s poet laureate at the time ended up spotting Farah and his talent.
From there, he was introduced to a community of other slam poets.
He laughs that at first, his parents didn’t believe that he was meeting other poets, but instead thought he was doing drugs.
Farah recently competed in the poetry slam competition in Moose Jaw, Sask., for the three-day Saskatchewan Festival of Words, alongside other Prairie poets.
For Farah, poetry is personal.
“I’m from Somalia and in Somali culture poets are very renowned in the community,” he explained.
“Poetry to me is how I stay with my culture, with my roots, with my heritage.”
Farah said the majority of his poems are about three things: his culture, Muslim faith or being, as he puts it, a “different black kid.”
“I’m nerdy,” he said, saying that he’s studying in chemical engineering in school when others he knows aren’t thinking about education.
Event organizer and spoken word poet Shayna Stock said getting on stage and share your personal stories and work with strangers can be a vulnerable experience.
“It’s important work in order to share pieces of ourselves to make connections with other people who are in the audience.”
Farah acknowledges he’s had to overcome nerves before performing.
When it comes to the writing itself, he compares that process to gold-mining — a poet or writer will have to sift through pages before finding a valuable nugget.
As for his advice for aspiring poets: “Just pick up a pen and start writing. Write everything that comes to your mind, even if it’s bad.”
The Saskatchewan Festival of Words ends Sunday.