Ryan Antooa is self-publishing his second poetry book. NICK STANLEY PHOTO

The Side Hustle: Local Poet Looks To Kaizen The Soul

If sometime over the past year you’ve thumbed through a poetry book left behind in a local café, you may have already encountered some of Ryan Antooa’s words. Between his work as the University of Waterloo’s social media specialist, a freelance creative director, and design consultant, creative projects continue to flow from Antooa’s fingertips and onto his pages. With design being the thread that ties all of his passions together, his carefully crafted words serve an intimate purpose. 

“The first project I authored was a collection of poetry entitled Better in Tune with the Infinite, which took me about a year to finish. I actually started writing it the day I started therapy. When I released it last year, I could have cared less if I sold a single copy … I wrote it from a very vulnerable place and what I wanted most was for it to make other people feel safe being vulnerable and themselves,” Antooa said. 

It’s for that reason that Antooa decided to leave copies of his first book around town, with a note to readers scrawled in the front cover inviting them to slow down and get lost in some art, if only for a moment. It’s also why he emailed a free copy of his book to anyone who was interested in reading it during the early days of quarantine this past year. 

“I just wanted to offer people a little bit of light in the same way that so many local artists and musicians in this community have done for me since I moved here. Even if it just gave them something to read rather than focusing on their own anxiety, I hoped my words might help,” Antooa said. 

That intrinsic passion is what inspires Antooa to continue challenging himself and growing as an artist, which this year has meant performing his spoken word poetry for the Good Company Productions “Golden Hour” series, as well as putting together his second major poetry project, among other things. 

“It was terrifying to read [my poems] on camera … but liberating. I like to do uncomfortable things because I think if you go slightly beyond fear and comfort, there’s gold there. In Japanese culture, they have a notion called “kaizen,” which means continuous improvement, even by one per cent every day. That’s really what I’m always seeking,” Antooa said.

Likewise, Antooa is now in the process of self-publishing his second poetry book – set for release this winter season – which pushes the bounds by including subtle nuances and homages to some of his favourite artists, as well as to his personal, ancestral story. It will also be accompanied by his first spoken word album “Channel Blue”, inspired by a mix of things including Frank Ocean’s “Channel Orange” and the waters Antooa’s family crossed to get to North America.

“They’re from a place called Guyana in South America, which is also known as the land of many waters. It’s a commentary on what you lose and what you gain when you cross over. Outside of that, “Channel Blue” will also be a meditation on water itself,” Antooa said. “If you’re really willing to dig, I hope you’ll find even more beauty in it,” he added.

The multiplicity and cadence to Antooa’s poetry begs curiosity about his creative process. Commenting on some of the ways he stays energized by these projects, while also balancing his nine to five job and freelance work, Antooa shared:

“The internal sense I’ve gained from therapy warns me when I’ve been taking on too much, and reminds me to pump the brakes a little bit. I try to honour that when I feel it, which for me means taking sabbaticals when I need to. I’m actually on one right now after burning myself out this summer. I’ve decided on no client projects and no social media for the next four months, just to focus on myself and on taking every day to learn.”

With that intention in mind, Antooa’s work is, at its core, about space: taking it when you need it and attempting to create it for others. Space to focus and learn, to care for your mental health, to reflect on where you’ve come from and what you’re giving your energy to today. 

“What I want for myself and for the people around me is to focus on being for the sake of being, instead of doing for the sake of being,” Antooa said.

Still willing to share his first book with those it interests, Antooa invites the community to reach out to him at ryanantooa@gmail.com – even if you’d just like to chat. You can also follow him on social media @ryanantooa and visit his website to stay up-to-date on his new projects.