Student writer coaxing new students out of comfort zones

Adela Talbot // Western News

At 4 years of age, Steven Slowka dictated his first story to his mom, but his attempts to write stories and books ever since have floundered.

“They never came full circle,” said Slowka, this year’s Student Writer in Residence, of his recent writing efforts.

Then, he freed his voice within the constraints of poetry.

“Poetry, for me, is kind of like a puzzle. Most of my poems are no longer than a page and it’s about finding the specific words I need and putting them into an arrangement to make the puzzle work, and to put the puzzle together,” said the fourth-year Anthropology student.

“The idea of writing a short story now is too big and expansive – too many things can go wrong. With a poem, it’s finite and there’s ultimately an ‘a-ha moment’ – something I want to work toward at the end of the poem.”

For Slowka, who grew up in small rural towns in New Brunswick and Ontario, writing started as a means of escape. He spent his formative years reading many books, and soon his interest shifted to wanting to create, rather than consume, the written word.

He picked up writing in high school, but it wasn’t until he arrived at Western that he discovered he had a knack.

“I started thinking and feeling like I’m actually getting better at this. I can finish poems, and finish things,” he said, noting he draws inspiration from everything around him, including his studies and life experiences.

“My poems start with a title. I’ll hear an interesting word, or if I learn something interesting, I use that and start with it,” Slowka continued.

Part of his studies included research in Indonesia and Uganda, and some of those experiences have likewise weighed heavily on his mind.

“In Indonesia, I met a young boy and we became best friends when I was there. Part of the dilemma of being an anthropologist is you build human relationships when you do research. You do field work in a place that’s not your home and then you have to leave those relationships behind,” Slowka said.

“A couple years later, I found out the boy drowned. There’s a weird disconnect in being an anthropologist and having human relationships and having a home that isn’t your current home. So, I wrote about that. There’s still stuff going on in that part of the world, but I’m over here.”

Coming from an anthropological background, Slowka writes about culture. A number of his poems feature animals, including Archaeopteryx, published in PRISM International. It’s an extinct evolutionary bird, but the poem has nothing to do with the bird. It’s about the after moments of sex, something that expires in its own way.

Now, having taken on the Student Writer in Residence post, Slowka hopes to grow Western’s and London’s creative writing communities.

“I’m really excited for the position – it’s new and I’m only the third one. There’s no program like this anywhere in North America, and it’s a blank slate, so to speak,” he said.

A big part of his term’s focus will be working with first-year students.

“When I was a first-year student, I was writing but I wasn’t writing things I thought were good yet. I would have been afraid to give my work to someone to read and I wasn’t into going out to a poetry slam,” he added.

Slowka hopes to coax new students out of their comfort zones by hosting workshops or writing contests within residences, in hopes of fostering their creativity, allowing others find and express their voices.

Another goal for his term, he added, is showing creative writers in the community how to blend and incorporate their professional and creative sides, to find inspiration and material in unexpected places.

“There’s a lot of potential with first-year students in the residence system. I was a residence advisor and a residence don for the past two years,” he said. “Everything’s a new experience for first years and it’s a great place to make creative writing a thing.”

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OFFICE HOURS: Student Writer in Residence Steven Slowka will hold office hours 2:30-3:30 p.m. Wednesdays in the Arts & Humanities Building, Room 2G28M.